Seed X-ray testing

Seed tests assess the quality of seed before sowing, and thus reduce the risks associated with sowing poor quality seeds. There are several seed tests, which provide different types of information.

One of these is the X-ray test. The first seeds were successfully X-rayed in 1903. But it was technically difficult, expensive and time-consuming to produce good quality X-ray images of the seeds with an analogue X-ray machine.

In the 1990s, the invention of the digital X-ray machine sparked a new era in seed research. We can now determine whether seeds are filled, empty, immature, and insect- or mechanically-damaged in mere seconds. Furthermore, the seeds can then be germinated as the X-rays are harmless.

For instance, juniper often produces poor quality seeds; even plump purple berries sometimes contain empty seeds. Therefore, we use x-rays to estimate seed quality in juniper populations throughout the British Isles. This will boost conservation efforts of this native conifer.