“Global seed bank” would ensure crop survival in doomsday scenario (Re-Issue)

December 31st, 2007 - 12:26 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of National Geographic
Washington, Dec 31 (ANI): The Norwegian government has built a repository to store backup copies of as many as three million different crop varieties, to ensure that humans could regrow the crops needed for survival in case of a doomsday scenario.

Known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the high-tech facility has been carved into a mountainside on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the crops stored in the vault are the raw genetic materials needed for breeders to adapt the global food supply to survive climate change, water and energy shortages, and even shifts in food preferences.

“What it’s going to do is put an end to extinction of agricultural crops,” said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust in Rome, Italy, referring to the vault.

“Crop diversity is quite a necessity if we want to continue to have wheat and rice and broccoli to put on the table,” he added.

What makes this “global seed bank” more important is that unlike wild plants, domesticated crops have had their evolution partially controlled by humans to create plants that can better survive pests, droughts, and other conditions.

“Being able to meet these different kinds of needs really requires that we have the genetic diversity that exists within the gene pool of our different crops,” the journal quoted Fowler as saying.

The Svalbard project is a global version of a seed bank, a concept that has been around since the 1920s.

Currently about 1,400 seed banks are in operation worldwide, each serving as a genetic library for anywhere from a handful to several thousand different crop varieties.

But the banks are vulnerable to mismanagement, equipment failures, budget cuts, severe weather, and sometimes the ravages of war.

To ensure the survival of the crops stored in these local banks, the Norway vault will collect samples from them in so-called black boxes. These packages will stay unopened in the Svalbard facility unless the need arises for a variety that is otherwise used up or wiped out.

According to David Battisti , an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, the global nature of the Svalbard seed vault is helping to change the way local seed banks operate.

“Instead of asking which seeds to collect and store to produce higher yields today, bank managers are beginning to ask which seeds will be valuable under different climate conditions in the future,” said Battisti.

“Climate models indicate that in most places around the world, the warmest temperature on record today will be colder than the coldest average temperature a hundred years from now,” he added. (ANI)

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