Now, That’s What I Call Seed Saving

vault.jpgThe Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened today with the beginning shipments of 100 million seeds that originated in over 100 countries. The seeds represent everything from food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato. The vault, located on a remote island in the Arctic Circle, will be home to the most comprehensive and diverse collection of food crop seeds being held anywhere in the world.

The structure itself is an ice-bound fortress built with a tunnel that goes deep into the side of a mountain. During the winter, Arctic aire -10Β°C to -20Β°C will be drawn into the vault. The surrounding rock will naturally keep the desired deep freeze, and during the summer refrigeration equipment will be used.

The unique structure is its own failsafe, in the event of equipment failure temperatures in the vault take months to warm up to a maximim of -3.5Β°C. The inside of the seed storage vault is lined with insulated panels as well. Electronic transmitters linked to a satellite system monitor temperature, and send this information back to the Longyearbyen and at the Nordic Gene Bank, where staff will be managing the Seed Vault.

Additional security measures, besides the extreme cold and remote location, include motion detectors and in the event of that failing, there is also the native polar bear population.

(More on the importance of preserving seed diversity after the jump).

Why go to these extremes, literally?
Given that we have lost nearly 75 percent of our food crop diversity since 1900, the vault is designed to help preserve what’s left for a future that may hold significant climate change, change that would endanger the remaining diversity of plant species. This diversity represents a valuable and irreplaceable source of plant genetics that we may have to rely on in order to insure we can restart regional or even larger-scale agricultures in the event of a man-made or natural disaster.

Diversity of species may also hold the key for sustainable agriculture practices. Preserving species that are resistant to pests and diseases can reduce the need for spraying crops with harmful pesticides. Some species may compete with weeds more efficiently, reducing the need for applying herbicides β€” and important resource as more herbicide-resistant strains of weeds develop with the use of GMO crops. Drought-resistant plants can help save water and lives in the event of temperature shifts and changing weather patterns.

The project depends on international cooperation (and donations) so it is not a surprise that one threat to diversity is not mentioned β€” cross-pollination from GMO crops. Let’s hope the polar bears stick around to keep a close watch.

5 thoughts on “Now, That’s What I Call Seed Saving”

  1. Thanks, great post! I read about this seed vault many months ago…thanks for the update and info. I can tell you and I share lots of interests.

  2. I am kind of a biology geek and that goes over into botany. Diversity is a huge concern of mine. You go to the grocery store, even a whole foods, and the produce section only holds so much. Then you get into seed catalogs and heirloom seeds and it’s amazing.

  3. GMO’s make me nervous, but don’t know if they should or not. Many countries, including those in Europe, have continued to support their research, but I find it chilling that the GMO’s cross pollinate with non-GMO species and weeds (as if they are not aggressive enough!).

    As a gardener, I understand the heirloom variety of crops and actually how much more flavorful they are. Hopefully we don’t ever need to go into this vault, but I’m glad someone is paying attention.

    Thanks for the info.

  4. Meredith Melnick

    This is such a great idea – thanks for sharing it, Beth! A loss of genetic diversity is dangerous for the health of any species. I think we lose sight of the fact that our crops are living organisms that require consideration.

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