‘Doom’s Day Vault’ houses global seeds


OSU master gardener volunteer


What if our planet suffered a catastrophic event – one that affected many areas of the globe?

Let’s take a look at just one thing that would be greatly impacted.

Think about our food supply – in particular, the plants most common in our diets and the seeds that help us produce these plants and fruit.

What if crops were destroyed worldwide? What if seed-storage facilities were also destroyed? How would we feed those who survive this almost unimaginable event?

Around the world, there are more than 1,700 gene banks that keep collections of seeds. All but one, however, are subject to war, natural disasters, equipment malfunctions and other problems.

The Nordic Gene Bank, since 1984, has stored backup Nordic plant germplasm via frozen seeds in an abandoned coal mine. In 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established to address a global “what if.” It is located on a Norwegian island, about 800 miles from the North Pole.

This area was chosen because of its cold climate, making it perfect for underground storage. It is located 478 feet into the rock, ensuring the vault rooms will remain naturally frozen even in the event of mechanical failure of the cooling system. It is protected from rising external air temperatures due to global warming.

The facility was funded by the Norwegian government at a cost of $9 million in 2006.

The Nordic Gene Bank operates the facility and maintains a public online database.

An international advisory council oversees the management and operations of the seed vault.

Funding to maintain it comes from the aid of organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and governments worldwide.

The first seeds arrived from Norway in 2008 – nearly 18,000 samples of 500 seeds each. The facility stores 500 seeds of each sample. The capacity is 4.5 million seed samples, which equals a maximum of 2.25 billion seeds.

Who owns the seeds? Any seed donated must by approved by a multilateral system, a division of an international treaty. The treaty ensures that countries can freely share genetic information of 64 crops that account for 80 percent of all human consumption. Seeds donated are still owned by those who made the donations.

For information on the ‘Dooms Day Vault,” visit www.seedvault.no.

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