Polar Sperm Bank for Plants

July 25, 2007 by · Comments Off on Polar Sperm Bank for Plants 


Think of it as protection for plant progeny: a high-tech fortress designed to preserve three million seed varieties. Hopefully, we’ll never have to make a withdrawal from this “doomsday” shelter. But if certain agricultural gems start to disappear, or an agricultural catastrophe strikes, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault may save the day. To be completed in fall 2007, the vault is chilled by the permafrost of its island location (deep inside a mountain, some 600 miles from the North Pole), and by sub-zero coolers powered by a nearby coal plant. Even if the power fails, the permafrost will keep the seeds in a frozen state (unless, of course, global warming melts the ice). Norway owns the vault itself, but the seeds will be the property of their contributing nations, about 100 countries.

Spearheaded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the vault preserves its seeds with state-of-the art materials, including hermetically-sealed envelopes adapted from the pharmaceutical industry (five-layers of mylar, plastic, and foil), air-locked entryways, and barcodes linking each envelope to a genetic database. If you think this Noah’s Ark of seed DNA is eco-folly, consider this stat from WIRED magazine: Of more than 8000 different crops grown in the U.S. in 1903, only 600 still existed 80 years later. (I wonder what crops we lost in that time…) At any rate, starting with the A’s, I sure hope the vault stocks artichokes, arugula and asparagus. Without them, cooking and eating just wouldn’t be the same!