Deep in the bowels of an icy mountain on an island above the Arctic Circle between Norway and the North Pole lies a resource of vital importance for the future of humankind. It’s not coal, oil or precious minerals, but seeds. Millions of these tiny brown specks, from more than 930,000 varieties of food crops, are stored in the Global Seed Vault. It is essentially a huge safety deposit box, holding the world’s largest collection of agricultural biodiversity.
The vault, can be a way of preserving historical species of plants and protect these seeds for future generations. The seeds in the Seed Vault are duplicate copies of collections held in national and other seedbanks around the world. If something happens to one of those facilities and if their seed samples are destroyed, then there is a backup copy in the Seed Vault. In the past the loss of a variety meant extinction for that variety and any unique trait it might have contained. Today, fires, floods, natural disaster, war, human error, accidents, funding cuts — none of these needs cause the extinction of a crop variety. If that variety is in the Seed Vault, it’s as safe as it can be.
Though the vault is thought of as a “doomsday vault”, that will be the source of seeds for the world after a worldwide disaster, that isn’t true. The seeds are not meant for distribution to farmers or gardeners. Their value and utility lie in their being a genetic resource in plant breeding. So, they are ultimately intended to serve plant breeders and other scientists who are involved in developing new crop varieties for farmers. Think of the seeds as a collection of traits, or even more broadly as a collection of options our crops will have in the future, options such as disease and pest resistance, drought and heat tolerance, better nutrition, etc.”
In order, to preserve these seeds at 0 F, the seeds are sealed in three-ply foil packages and then sealed inside boxes. These boxes are placed on shelves inside the vault where temperature and moisture levels are closely monitored. This process helps keep the metabolic activity in the seeds low, keeping them viable for long periods of time.
The Global Seed Vault can hold massive amounts of seeds. It is built to store a whopping 4.5 million varieties of crops, with each variety containing around 500 seeds. That equals a maximum of 2.5 billion seeds that can be stored in the Vault. The vault currently holds more than 860,000 seed samples. These seeds were donated by almost every country in the world, so there is a massive variety of seeds represented in the Global Seed Vault.