Wednesday, March 05, 2008
storing our seed
It looks like we have a new way to save us from ourselves. No, it isn't some fad diet or a miracle recipe for procuring gasoline from thin air... It's the Global Seed Vault, a new international repository for up to 4.5 million seed samples, which would become critically important were some global catastrophe to wipe out all other seeds in the world.
Opening for "business" last week, the vault is every bit as much a doomsday plan as it sounds. The scientists and technologists running the program—which is based out of a bunker under 500 feet of Arctic rock on the Norwegian island of Svalbard—say the reality is that climate change and the increased use of genetically modified crops is causing a serious concern about the future of our world's plants. Among other things, genetic diversity has gone way down, and that means that farm crops are more susceptible to catastrophic blights and natural disasters.
Seed banks have existed in various forms throughout the world, but they've often been located in politically unstable regions. What's more, the systems that these banks used were far from uniform. The new Global Seed Vault, which is being financed by both private and government funds, will try to gather as many different storable plant seeds as possible in an effort to both preserve the gentic identity of some soon-to-be-extinct species and also to provide us with a backup plan in the event that humankind or nature depletes our ecosystem of our primary producers.
It's a really interesting idea; I wonder whether a Noah's ark half a mile underground is next! ∞
Update: Here's a nice 60 Minutes news article about the seed bank.