The Svalbard Global Seed Vault


Tunnels in the icy tundra of Svalbard, Norway are a vault that holds the full future of agriculture. Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the first gene bank of its kind to collect and preserve every single unique set of genes for the millions of varieties of crops on Earth. Seed banks have been around since the 1920s, but many of them are gone due to environmental disasters, war, and a plain chronic lack of funds.

This is bad because once a crop goes extinct, it is gone forever, and we don't know what the future holds in terms of the environment. Some traits may be better than others, but without genetic data, there would be no way to breed crops in the direction humanity needs to evolve. For example, if you've ever heard someone born before the 1950s complain that bananas used to be sweeter and tastier, it's not just to take the nostalgia glasses to the biological extreme. . They were literally eating different bananas, specifically the Gros Michel, which had been nearly wiped out by Panama disease. Today we eat stupid Cavendish bananas.

In the 1990s, Afghanistan lost all of its seed banks due to regional conflicts, and after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Norwegian University of Life Sciences professor Carrie Fowler became obsessed with the idea of ​​creating a global seed vault somewhere far away. War or natural disaster may touch upon it as a kind of backup for the world's gene banks. In 2004, he persuaded the Norwegian government to fund a feasibility study for the project.

Quickly, he decided on Svalbard for its remoteness, peaceful political climate, and extremely cold ecological one. Since the seeds needed to be preserved at -18 °C (-0.4 °F), it helped to make the vault cool enough to keep the seeds frozen in the event of a blackout or other catastrophe. The location allowed them to be built directly into the side of a mountain, leaving the only open-air entrance, greatly reducing the need for protection. In fact, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has no permanent employees, as anyone who wants to break in must first defeat the hellish terrain and possibly a polar bear or two.

The Norwegian government approved the vault, and after four years of construction, it opened in 2008. Although the collection stood for thousands of years, its first return occurred much earlier than expected. By 2015, due to the war in Syria, most of the country's crops and seed banks had been lost, including a special type of drought-resistant wheat, which Aleppo scientists cross-bred to insure the region's agricultural future Was. Fortunately, he supported 80% of his work in Svaldbard, allowing him to resume his research in safer areas such as Morocco.

Its creators believed the vault would live up to even the most extreme predictions of climate change, but in 2017, the permafrost around the entrance melted and flooded the front hallway. It froze again as it traveled deeper into the mountain and luckily didn't ruin any seeds, but a lot of electrical equipment had to be replaced and relocated. The building has since been waterproofed.

The vault reopened in 2020 to take in a larger consignment of seeds, taking the number of unique varieties in its collection to a little over a million. The Crop Trust, a non-profit that aims to protect the future of agriculture, has raised $360 million to secure Vault's finances for at least the next few hundred years. Hopefully, the future of humanity will never depend on trekking across the icy doorstep in the Arctic archipelago to save itself from mass starvation, but if the need arises, we can all rest assured that there is an alternative.

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