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Happy Birthday Seeds!

Sun, 1st Mar 2009

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A global seed bank in Svalbard celebrated its 1st birthday on the 26th of February, but rather than receiving a cake, they received a four tonne shipment of seeds from all over the world, bringing the total number of seeds stored to over 20 million.

Front entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.Described as the “custodians of the crown jewels of crop diversity”, seed banks like this one are essential not only as an archive of wild and cultivated species, keeping them safe from whatever may happen in the wild, but also as an enormous genetic database that may enable us to grow more food crops or cope with a changing climate.  

There have already been predictions that a changing climate could reduce maize production in Southern Africa by 30 percent over the next 20 years, which shows that we need to maintain as diverse a range of crops as possible in order to adapt our agriculture to the climate.  Without these stored seeds and the genetic secrets they contain, we would struggle to maintain even the current level of food production.

Seeds arriving at the vault to celebrate its anniversary include 32 varieties of potatoes as well as oats, wheat, barley, and various wild grasses, and are travelling from Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, the USA, Syria, Mexico and Columbia, though many of the seeds they have amassed are from all over the world.

The Svalbard vault itself is an incredible feat of engineering, consisting of chambers carved 120 meters into a mountain, with a capacity to store 4.5 million types of seeds.  It’s part of a network of seed banks all over the world, each duplicating the seeds that the others hold as a back-up, so in the event of a global catastrophe, any one of them could act as a “Noah’s Ark” for agriculture.

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