Doomsday seed vault’s stores are growing

By | February 23, 2009

Doomsday seed vault's stores are growing

An armed guard stands outside the entrance to the ‘doomsday’ seed vault, in February 2008, near Longyabyen.

The stores of seeds in the vault are reportedly growing as researchers rush to preserve 100,000 crop varieties from potential extinction.

The stores of seeds in a “doomsday” vault in the Norwegian Arctic are growing as researchers rush to preserve 100,000 crop varieties from potential extinction.

The imperiled seeds are going to be critical for protecting the global food supply against devastating crop losses as a result of climate change, said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

“These resources stand between us and catastrophic starvation,” Fowler said. “You can’t imagine a solution to climate change without crop diversity.”

That’s because the crops currently being used by farmers will not be able to evolve quickly enough on their own to adjust to predicted drought, rising temperatures and new pests and diseases, he said.

One recent study found that corn yields in Africa will fall by 30 percent by 2030 unless heat-resistant varieties are developed, Fowler noted.

“Evolution is in our control,” he said in an interview. “It’s in our seed bank. You take traits form different varieties and make new ones.”

That process currently takes about 10 years. But Fowler said his organization is hoping to speed up the development of new varieties by cataloguing the genetic traits of the seeds that it stores.

Their gene bank — dug into a mountainside near Longyearbyen, in the Svalbard islands in the far north of Norway — will be made public to help spur research, which Fowler says is woefully inadequate.

“Six people in the world are breeding bananas. Ditto for yams, a major crop in Africa,” Fowler said ahead of a presentation Sunday to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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