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Earth Technology

How the Global Seed Vault Aims To Fight Future Famine 115

Posted by Soulskill
from the betting-our-future-on-a-hole-in-the-ground dept.
Lanxon writes "The Global Seed Vault opened in 2008 after engineers spent a year drilling and blasting through the sandstone, siltstone and claystone of the Norwegian Platåberget Mountain to create a system of subterranean chambers on the Advent Fjord's southern flank that could store 4.5 million seeds. It's a $9 million bet against climate change. But can it save us from the threat of worldwide famine? An article at Wired explores its current state and its future: '... it operates as a secure storage space for samples of other collections that are at risk. The samples remain at all times the property of the depositors, the only proviso being that the originals must be freely available to researchers and breeders under the terms of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. There have been deposits from every continent: 3,710 species in total, from 29 crop institutes representing 226 countries. Over the past few years the need for a secure storage facility has become ever more urgent. A typhoon in the Philippines in 2006 caused a flood that left the national crop gene bank under two meters of water.'"
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How the Global Seed Vault Aims To Fight Future Famine

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  • This seems to me to be a thornier (excuse the pun) problem than nuclear waste. At least if waste leaks it only poisons a small area and hopefully doesn't wipe out entire species.
    • by Lanteran (1883836)
      or we could just, you know, reprocess nuclear waste into fuel instead of dumping inside a mountain.
  • Does anyone know if Monstanto's defunct, wretched, genetically modified seeds are in there as well?
    • I hope not... otherwise our ancestors may be sued by zombie lawyers from the 21st century!
    • by EdIII (1114411) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @04:07PM (#34075302)

      Does anyone know if Monstanto's defunct, wretched, genetically modified seeds are in there as well?

      Highly doubtful. From the summary, "The samples remain at all times the property of the depositors, the only proviso being that the originals must be freely available to researchers and breeders under the terms of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources."

      Considering that the only organization more vile, despicable, and a greater danger to humanity than the Mafiaa (including their bought and paid for lackeys in the governments) is Monsanto, I doubt they would be able to cooperate with such an agreement.

      Besides, seeds that can only be used once since they have death codes inside them don't belong in that seed vault by definition.

      • Monsanto are one of the largest investors of this elaborate project, and anyone who has studied Monsanto knows that Monsanto is NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

        They take absolutely every chance they get to strengthen their death-grip on international agriculture, if we give them an inch they will take a mile. This is about world domination of agriculture. [naturalnews.com]

        They always sell their modified crap as being greatly beneficial and liberating to the poor farmers, when in reality they are shackling third world countires to
        • Good thing the DoJ filed that brief against patenting genes [slashdot.org], eh?
        • by cbraescu1 (180267)

          Tinfoil much?

        • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @09:47PM (#34077030)

          Natural News? Seriously? Hint: a site that promotes homeopathy, reiki, and magic silver as cancer cures and says the vaccines cause autism isn't a good source of information. Great example of crank magnetism though.

          Crap like this is what pisses me off. No, Monsanto is not your friend, but then you have clueless people railing against them with no idea as to what is actually going on, and that just makes the whole issue that much harder. I won't listen to the medical opinions of a doctor who uses the terms brain and heart interchangeably, and I won't listen to agricultural opinions of people who use pesticide and herbicide interchangeably. And you know so many are only against Monsanto because they do genetic engineering, and, at this point in time, anti-GMO is just another form of baseless pseudoscientific crank denialism woowoo. "I saw Splice once, so I know more about genetic engineering than geneticists!" No, you don't, you just can't be effed to crack a book before protesting. They're like the anti-vaxxers and alt-med quacks who rant about companies like Pfizer and Merck, not because of the bad things those companies actually do, but because said cranks don't understand the science behind pharmaceuticals/vaccines. Then people like me, who do understand the science behind GMOs, the science behind what Monsanto does, are left in the awkward position of defending Monsanto for the sake of accuracy.

          By all means, keep an eye on them, they are not to be trusted, hell, it looks like they may have lied about the yield of there latest generation of soybean, but keep it in the real, don't try to pass off anti-Monsanto sentiment as actual science, and stay away from tinfoil land. When the two major points in an agreement are backed by moneyed interests and and the ignorant yet vocal, it makes it really hard to find the truth.

    • by kent_eh (543303)
      Sigh.

      the only proviso being that the originals must be freely available to researchers and breeders under the terms of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources.

      Here's the summary of said treaty (first result in my Google search)

      The Treaty aims at:

      # recognizing the enormous contribution of farmers to the diversity of crops that feed the world;
      # establishing a global system to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with access to plant genetic materials;
      # ensuring that recipients share benefits they derive from the use of these genetic materials with the countries where they have been originated
      .

      So, I'd say patent encumbered seed stock wouldn't be offered to or accepted by the seed bank.
      Which is a good thing, IMHO

    • by WeeBit (961530)
      hybrid seeds are not permitted. Or so that is what i thought. The idea was in case something happen. Too bad they can't do the same for the trout that Monsanto is forcing down our throats.

      Oh and guess what! Not sure what truth their is to it but i heard that Bill Gates and Monsanto helped to fund this. Bill Gates is fine, but why would Monsanto fund something like this? It was my understanding that Monsanto is one of the reasons for why this vault was created. If they screw up mother nature then we
  • if climate change doesn't happen then the value of their seed vault won't be what they are expecting and they lose.

    Buying coastal real estate would be a bet againt climate change.

    • Actually, I would think that climate change is the least of our issues with the amount of GM seed in commercial production.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah all those damn GM crops producing higher yeild so millions more can feed their families.
        Unnatural I tell you!

        • by Dexter Herbivore (1322345) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @03:19PM (#34075026) Journal
          I'm not against GM, I'm against companies OWNING genes. It's the old story of proprietary vs open source... do you really want the food sources of humanities future controlled by corporations with only a profit motive and no humanitarian concerns?
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            Gah, humanity's*. It's late here, 4am does not make for good grammar. So sayeth the Yoda. Actually, "4am does not good grammar make", so sayeth the Yoda.
          • They will only be controlled if regular people are deluded into believing so and allow it. However, I think extreme hunger will win in the long run.

            • Viva la revolutione?
            • by Diantre (1791892)

              They will only be controlled if regular people are deluded into believing so and allow it.

              I totally can't see that happening. Regular people being fooled by corporations, against their best interests? Nah....

          • by westlake (615356)

            It's the old story of proprietary vs open source... do you really want the food sources of humanities future controlled by corporations with only a profit motive and no humanitarian concerns?

            The pragmatic - profit-oriented - corporation I can live with.

            The government or NGO which lacks staff or funding or whose policies change with every shift in the politcal winds, every notion of ideogical purity or political correctness, I am not so sure of.

             

            • by dachshund (300733)

              The pragmatic - profit-oriented - corporation I can live with. The government or NGO which lacks staff or funding or whose policies change with every shift in the politcal winds, every notion of ideogical purity or political correctness, I am not so sure of.

              Will you be able to live with them when they decide that letting you and your family starve to death increases shareholder value? Or is "live with" just a figure of speech?

              Sometimes the problem with loving the devil you know (rather than the angel you

          • by hedwards (940851)
            You should be against GMO. If you screw it up which is quite possible you can end up wiping out a good portion of the other plants in existence. It's way beyond the possible harm of just selective breeding. Unless you know how to breed a leopard with a firefly and get a leopard with glowing spots, because you'd have to be nuts to imagine that sort of thing.
          • I'm not against GM, I'm against companies OWNING genes.

            That's a reasonable position, although, while that's frequently said, but it's actually very rare to find someone who actually believes that. A lot of people who say 'I'm not anti-GM, but...' are actually anti-GM, with the second half of that sentence being some weak justification. Many 'not anti-GMO' people are also against GMOs like Rainbow papaya, Golden Rice, and Cornell's Bt eggplant, both of which farmers are allowed, even encouraged, to save seed. They are even against government made GMOs, like H

          • by Nyder (754090)

            I'm not against GM, I'm against companies OWNING genes. It's the old story of proprietary vs open source... do you really want the food sources of humanities future controlled by corporations with only a profit motive and no humanitarian concerns?

            You mean like it pretty much is now?

        • Higher yield was the propaganda phase. Now they are engineering stuff resistant to herbicides instead.

          Working out the difference is left as an exercise to the reader.

          • They? Yeah, because all genetic engineers are part of a single monolith./sarcasm

            First off, herbicide resistant crops are, contrary to the ramblings of a bunch of people whose education in genetics consists solely of having seen Jurassic Park once, actually fairly useful to the farmer, and pretty beneficial to the environment. Yeah, spraying herbicides (even ones that degrade quickly like glyphosate) probably hurts the environment somewhat, but by allowing no-till farming, they've done a lot less harm over

            • > To say that increased yield is propaganda, quite frankly, is simply untrue.
              I said propaganda phase. When media started discussing GM, media told they'd resist parasites and yield more.
              Your post itself says higher yield is not often the direct result of GM. That is the point, and anyway we'll soon see.

              About genetic engineers, it's their bosses that count.

            • When one fact is used as the single selling point, that IS propaganda.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        It just occured to me that I'm arguing the wrong point in that last post. What the hell does economic value have to do with preserving genetic diversity? This is (theoretically at least) a pure science problem of preserving gene sequences that may be wiped out by economic forces... oh wait, I think I just refuted my own argument.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      the "bet against climate change" seemed pretty straightforward to me that it was a bet against the success of climate change

      maybe it's just me, but I got what they were saying.
  • by ColMstrd (103170) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @03:18PM (#34075022) Homepage Journal

    A single seed bank like this doesn't make any kind of biological sense. It is remarkably unlikely to be useful in the event of catastrophe: it's a long old road up there to Norway to replenish stocks of some ancient carrot variety from most parts of Europe.

    If you actually wanted to guard biodiversity, you would encourage social networks of gardeners to replant varieties each season and share the ensuing seeds. The French organisation Kokopelli [wikipedia.org] does this, but seems to suffer from legal harassment rather than incur the subsidies it would receive in any sane world.

    An analogy for the slashdot crowd might be Napster (centralised) vs. BitTorrent (distributed).

    • by Guppy (12314)

      An analogy for the slashdot crowd might be Napster (centralised) vs. BitTorrent (distributed).

      BitTorrent's a good example of both the strength and weakness of distributed distribution. There are going to be both popular and unpopular plants, and as the years pass eventually you'll start finding the equivalent of dead torrents. The best solution may be a hybrid model, with a centralized bank periodically "Re-seeding" (ah-yup) less popular varieties into the distributed network.

    • See also: Seed Savers Exchange [seedsavers.org] At its core, SSE is a centralized tracker for gardeners for peer to peer seed exchange. That said, SSE also sells and distributes a subset of their seed varieties to keep the lights on and encourage heirloom planting. They have an account at the Norway seed bank, and use it for offsite backups of rare seedstock. This is a worst-case scenario backup for cataclysmic events like nuclear war or insane seed-eating fungii.
  • by Rockoon (1252108) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @03:20PM (#34075030)
    I'm pretty sure that my bathtub could hold 4.5 million seeds, and for $9 million thats $2 per seed? What the hell am I missing?

    1m x 1m x 1.5m = 1.5m^3 = 1500000cm^3 so my bathtub could store over a million seeds that were 1cm cubes... way larger than the average seed, right?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you give the third world food, they'll just breed more until they don't have enough to feed everyone even with the aid. Want to fight starvation effectively? Give them condoms.

      • I wonder why you posted that as an AC? Oh...
      • by I(rispee_I(reme (310391) on Saturday October 30, 2010 @03:36PM (#34075136) Journal

        Ah, but if we give them condoms, we are encouraging fornication.

        This seems like a textbook example of why churches are not the best agent for philanthropic missions.

        Note to self: Use this as a talking point to republicans to demonstrate why tax breaks to churches are no substitute for actual social programs.

        • A small amount of urine just ran down my leg with (delight/drunkeness, delete as applicable)... please mod parent up.
        • by baKanale (830108)
          That's no talking point at all! Many Republicans would agree that condoms encourage fornication, which, again, most of them would be against. Also, as the GP said, giving them food encourages them to breed, thus fulfilling God's first command after Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, namely "be fruitful and multiply". That and they'd probably say social programs are "communist", too, so even if they're demonstrably better than churches they're automatically evil anyway.

          But then again I'm a pessimist
        • by Nyder (754090)

          Ah, but if we give them condoms, we are encouraging fornication.

          This seems like a textbook example of why churches are not the best agent for philanthropic missions.

          Note to self: Use this as a talking point to republicans to demonstrate why tax breaks to churches are no substitute for actual social programs.

          Church's should be non profit groups. They shouldn't get a tax break. It would stop on some of these seriously fake, oh wait, nm, they all are seriously fake.

          Point stands. Tax breaks for religons is very stupid. And bias.

      • by vxice (1690200)
        give a man a fish... people don't want to be given something that depends on others. They want to be productive in their own right.
        • by weicco (645927)

          This is in fact quite correct.

          There's a country in Africa, which name I just forgot, which was doing quite OK by their own. They had stable food market there and so on. Enter the charity organizations...

          Charity organizations brought free food to the country because it was said that people there are starving. Well, they weren't, but hey! it's Africa and everyone MUST be starving there because it's Africa. Now what happens to economy, when free goods are introduced to the market? It collapses! Production drop

    • OK, so cue panel 2 of the cartoon, showing two more mouths to feed, now that you fed the first one. If all these children really are dying due to lack of food, what the hell is creating even more children who will suffer the same fate, and what is going to prevent this from creating even more once you provide more food?
    • So what do you do (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770)

      When the area between A and B is filled with assholes with guns? So you go in and kill them, invade another country and try to impose your will on it? You'll note the US has done that sort of thing recently and it hasn't gone very well.

      This idea that it is as simple as just giving food to starving people shows a shocking lack of ignorance of the situation of the world. It is a childlike oversimplification of the situation. I mean you are right in the basics that the world is capable of producing enough food

      • You may have taken my post too seriously, I'm not an idiot. I wouldn't have bothered replying except that someone might mistake the words you put in my mouth for my own.
  • I am honestly wondering what kind of seeds we got from Antarctica.
  • I just re-read my posts... and realised that I may look like a Karma farmer, however I just watched Food Inc a few days ago and my passions are running high on a few related issues. Apologies to Slashdotters if you're getting annoyed with my multiple posts.
    • by Jeremi (14640)

      I may look like a Karma farmer

      Please. We prefer the term "karma industry worker".

    • I tried watching it a few days ago. Didn't last too long. How anyone can stomach that movie is beyond me. This review [scienceblogs.com] about sums up the what I was able to get out of it. I can't believe how many people are able to find such great meaning out of that steaming turd. I guess it's because most of us are so disconnected from agriculture.

  • That is our future food.. everything else just wont cut it.

  • With more and more species becoming extinct all the time why does someone not collect genetic material from the as many remaining individual creatures from a species so that if they all die out in the future there is a chance of bringing them back.

    There trying with mammoths but that is with badly preserved genetic material, imagine if you had a change to take samples of your chose from a mammoth we would be having them walking around the zoos right now.

    Even from a business point of view as someone has to pa

  • Vault-Tec. Secure Your Future!
  • Like most crop varieties of apples, bananas and tomatoes?

    Or do they manually pollinate them? Whilst crossing fingers and hoping for the best (apple trees take a long time to grow to fruit bearing age so it's hard to validate)..

    • clueless much? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dbc (135354)

      Ummmm....apples and tomatoes both contain seeds. My mother started tomatoes from seeds all the time.

      Unless by "we" you were implying that you and I both are lacking in the necessary skills to start a tomato from seeds, which is true for me, at least compared to my mother.

      • He probably means things that are propagated asexually and don't come true to seed. Superior varieties of apple can't be grown from seed. Well, I mean, yeah, they can, but due to the genetic variability of apple seedlings, it is very uncommon for, say, a Fuji seedling to be anything like the parent Fuji. Bananas, not sure about their variability, but most varieties of them are also reproduced asexually. Tomatoes, got me there, they'll self pollinate pretty nicely and make nearly genetically identical se

        • by Guppy (12314)

          Bananas, not sure about their variability, but most varieties of them are also reproduced asexually.

          All commercial varieties of banana are reproduced asexually, as they are triploid and sterile; the random seed may occasionally occur, but very rarely.

          Wild bananas are seed producing, see pictures here [blogspot.com].

      • by Sleepy (4551)

        Technically speaking, you almost never grow apple from seeds found in an apple you eat. This is basically because the seeds DO NOT match the apple (and this is due to two things: the parent tree was likely spliced onto different rootstock, and because most apples are cross pollinated with crabtrees because they make great polinators for other apple trees... lousy eating is not relevent since the meat of the fruit matches the type of tree that hosted the fruit)

        You actually get the same problems with tomatoes

        • by dbc (135354)

          Sure, food you buy in a store is almost certain to not have useful seeds, either because they are an unstable hi-bred, or simply a bad cross as you point out. But my point is that it is possible to start the plants from seed if you have access to a stable varietal. See my post on preservation of heirloom varieties. Far too few people understand the perilous state of our genetic seed bank for food crops. (And feed crops, too, for that matter.) Many intrepid gardeners grow heirloom varieties from seeds tha

      • ...with any kind of accuracy. Apples can't self pollinate, which means you'll never get the same variety of apple out of its seeds. Sure, you'll get an apple, but not the same apple you were expecting.

        Google for more info:

        http://www.google.nl/search?q=growing+apples+from+seed [google.nl]

        As far as tomatoes go I was refering to certain popular crop tomatoes which, as I understand it, do not produce viable seeds.

        I understand that a lot of the varieties grown commercially have similar problems. They've either been desig

  • Cary Fowler is engaged in the Noah-like task of gathering the seeds of some two million varieties of food plants

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/27/070827fa_fact_seabrook

  • Most of the food plants we grow today are hi-bred seeds. As a result, many heirloom varieties are in danger of disappearing. It is import to continually plant and harvest these seeds, every 3 or 4 years or so, to keep them potent. Individual gardeners can help immensely. It is important that heirloom varieties not be grown near to other varieties or hi-breds of the same species in order to avoid contaminating the genome by cross-pollination. Yes, your back yard garden is a better place to grow an heirl

  • Has anybody else here read the newly-released-in-SFBC title "Windup Girl"? Paulo Bacigalupi has written a cautionary tale of where GM crops, IP and climate change collide with gene hacking and seed banks in Thiland.

    I haven't read anything quite so disturbing since "Blood Music".

  • And yet they built it on an ISLAND!!! Facing the arctic ocean! What gives??? I thought they were worried about flooding! GCC! Why didn't they put it in Idaho, or Montana! Again, what gives???
  • The No. 1 (1959, China) and 3 1932, (USSR) famine by fatalities in history are caused by politics. Can this vault save us from those?
    • No, one would have to weed out socialism for this. And not to store it underground to make it reappear hundreds of years later.

  • It's easier to say this than to do this, but I would argue that we need at least three of those locations. Unfortunately, only the near-Arctic is suitable, the southern hemisphere has no locations that are the right temperature.

  • Seeds? Really? Seeds? Germination rates on most plant genomes drops near zero over time, because the issues involved in seed storage are not well understood. That makes this idea little more than a decent science experiment.
  • A famine is the result of drastic environmental change that can be the result of or cause a taxation on the land to the point where it cannot sustain crops capable of feeding a large scale metropolis. the point is that in order to feed people you need to be able to grow enough food. seeds do not feed people, the produce from crops which take time is what feeds people. If the world wants to be able to protect against famine then they need to take preventive steps to do so. they could develop better land cons
  • I remember reading about a flap not too long ago, in which the founders of Seed Savers Exchange (a large heirloom seed organization; mentioned a few times in the threads above) wound up in a bitter and very public dispute concerning transfer of member-supplied seed to Svalbard. Unfortunately, between the increasingly over-the-top rants, deletion of posts on the topic and PR spin control as the thing heated up, I could never get a clear picture of just what it was factually about. The complaint as I understa

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