Project baseline: An unprecedented resource to study plant evolution across space and time

Julie R Etterson, Steven J. Franks, Susan J. Mazer, Ruth G Shaw, Nicole L. Soper Gorden, Heather E. Schneider, Jennifer J. Weber, Katharine J. Winkler, Arthur E. Weis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Project Baseline is a seed bank that offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine spatial and temporal dimensions of microevolution during an era of rapid environmental change. Over the upcoming 50 years, biologists will withdraw genetically representative samples of past populations from this time capsule of seeds and grow them contemporaneously with modern samples to detect any phenotypic and molecular evolution that has occurred during the intervening time. METHODS: We carefully developed this living genome bank using protocols to enhance its experimental value by collecting from multiple populations and species across a broad geographical range in sites that are likely to be preserved into the future. Seeds are accessioned with site and population data and are stored by maternal line under conditions that maximize seed longevity. This open-access resource will be available to researchers at regular intervals to evaluate contemporary evolution. KEY RESULTS: To date, the Project Baseline collection includes 100-200 maternal lines of each of 61 species collected from over 831 populations on sites that are likely to be preserved into the future across the United States (~78,000 maternal lines). Our strategically designed collection circumvents some problems that can cloud the results of "resurrection" studies involving naturally preserved or existing seed collections that are available fortuitously. CONCLUSIONS: The resurrection approach can be coupled with long-established and newer techniques over the next five decades to elucidate genetic change and thereby vastly improve our understanding of temporal and spatial changes in phenotype and the evolutionary processes underlying it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-173
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Botanical Society of America.


  • Climate change
  • Geographic variation
  • Natural selection
  • Phenotypic evolution
  • Population differentiation
  • Resurrection ecology
  • Seed bank
  • Species range


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