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Global Seed Vault

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The Svalbard Seed Bank

There are many varieties, or “cultivars,” of every given fruit, and different cultivars come in and out of favor over time. A cultivar is a cultured plant that is carefully chosen and given a distinct name because of its planned features.

The Gros Michel cultivar of bananas was the one that was most frequently transported to North America and Europe in the middle of the 20th century. The rapid spread of the “Panama Disease,” a fungal contagion that affects the banana plant’s roots, nearly drove it extinct in the 1950s. And the Cavendish cultivar, which is knowingly less flavorful but stronger, took the place of the Gros Michel.

The aim of recent agriculture is often to maximize profit by producing the highest crop harvest. Every crop has a few prudently chosen cultivars that are planted all over the world, replacing many other local types. Under standard environments, this process provides reliably admirable yields, but it also brings a hidden threat. Each and every commercially grown plant is a clone of few carefully selected genomic strains. Thus, genomic diversity is reduced radically, leaving crop species susceptible to any disease that can take advantage of that exact strain. The widespread cultivation of corn, wheat, and rice, there is concern that a recently altered strain of fungus might wipe out the entire global harvest in a matter of months, ensuing in stern food scarcities.

International organizations have formed several green gene banks, which keep samples of the genetic material of diverse varieties of each plant class in order to preserve the gene diversity of major food crops. The Svalbard Seed Bank obliges as a sort of protection net and last-resort resource, and the vault works like a genetic safe. While the Svalbard Seed Bank owns the facility, each account holder owns the contents of his or her case, and each depositor controls access to specific specimens.

The facility can store 4.5 million seed sample sets. The Svalbard Seed Bank can store three of each seed sample, and they assessed that there are over 1.5 million different seed tasters of agricultural crops in presence. The seed samples can live from 2000 to 20,000 years under the current temperature settings in the vault. On the isolated Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, in the far north, they house the seed bank in a former copper mine. The main store is located 120 meters inside a sandstone mountain. The bank uses multiple reliable security and preservation systems. To keep out moisture and seeds are heat sealed in unique four-ply packages. A nearby coal mine and a power station supply the electricity for refrigeration control. The isolated northern position works as a natural refrigerator as well. It will take at least a few weeks in the event of a total power outage before the temperature reaches the adjacent sandstone bedrock’s3 °C.

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