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Doomsday Vault

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Doomsday Vault

Post by shammy on Tue Feb 26, 2008 1:13 pm

26th February, 2008

Deep in an Arctic mountain, Norway is planning on eventually storing 2.25 billion seeds to protect world food supply

Hollowed out of a sandstone mountainside on a remote Norwegian island, a newly constructed planetary depository for seeds from key agricultural crops - dubbed the doomsday vault - is receiving its first samples this morning.

The underground, bombproof shelter, financed by the Norwegian government and located in the Svalbard Islands in the Arctic Ocean, is designed to safeguard the genetic diversity of the plants backing the world's food supply, in case political instability, nuclear war or climatic upheaval over the centuries wipes out key seed varieties from their countries of origin.

The vault has the capacity to hold a hoard of about 2.25 billion seeds, enough to preserve every important agricultural crop on Earth. But it will inter for safekeeping today an initial shipment of 100 million seeds from 268,000 varieties of wheat, barley, lentils and other crops, the beginning of a genetic trove that could come in handy for future generations.

The vault opening "marks a turning point toward ensuring the crops that sustain us will not be lost," said Cary Fowler, who helped assess the feasibility of the storage facility as executive director of the Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust, a plant preservation group.

"In the case of a large-scale regional or even global catastrophe, it is quite likely that the seed vault would prove indispensable to humanity," he wrote in a report being released today that describes the thinking behind the creation of the vault, which cost about $9-million and has been built to withstand everything from global warming to nuclear war. "Given its location and construction, the seed vault would likely survive almost anything."

There are currently about 1,400 collections of agricultural seeds spread around the world at plant breeding facilities, in agriculture ministries and universities, holding about 6.5 million different cultivars, or crop varieties.

The new vault has been designed to gather samples from these collections and store them in a secure facility, ensuring that if anything happens to the original seeds, backups will be available to guarantee the unique genetic resources aren't permanently lost.

Construction of the vault, whose entrance of massive concrete slabs protrudes from a mountainside on Spitsbergen and is adorned with a collection of light-reflecting mirrors, was prompted by worries that many collections are vulnerable, even without a planetary Armageddon.

In recent years, Cameroon lost an important batch of tubers due to a weekend power outage, and a Philippine collection was badly damaged in a typhoon. An Italian gene bank ran into problems after its refrigeration equipment failed, and seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan were looted during the ongoing wars.

Agriculture Canada is providing seeds for posterity at the vault. It sent 6,000 samples from 90 different species, including varieties of barley, other grains, clover and oilseeds such as canola. The seeds will remain the property of Canada while in Norway, and will be allowed to be retrieved only by Agriculture Canada.


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