The Science of Sustainability

Secrets of the Global Seed Vault: A Conversation with Scientist Luigi Guarino

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Exterior of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Most of the facility is located underground. Photo by Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diversity Trust

Most of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is buried deep inside a mountain. Photo by Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diversity Trust

On a remote island near the North Pole, a disaster-proof underground vault holds millions of frozen seeds. Like something out of a James Bond movie, this high-security seed bank in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago was built to help ensure the survival of something incredibly precious: food diversity. If this seems extreme, consider that the U.S. has likely lost over 90 percent of fruit tree and vegetable varieties since 1900 and India has lost an estimated 90 percent of its rice varieties, largely as a result of industrialization. If the trend continues and climate change compounds the toll, some of our favorite foods could disappear, and important staples like rice, wheat, and corn may become endangered.

This stuff is precious and unique, and you don’t want to take any risks with it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever… [Luigi Guarino]

To understand why this loss of crop diversity matters and explore the inner workings of the Global Seed Vault, QUEST TV host Simran Sethi talks to Luigi Guarino, a scientist with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an organization that helped establish this Arctic seed bank. During the interview Guarino answers questions about how seeds are acquired and stored, whether the vault accepts genetically modified seeds, and who owns and manages the collection.

Sethi herself has a particular interest and growing expertise in the subject of seeds, which was the focus of her TEDx talk in 2013. Sethi first met Guarino while conducting research for a book she is writing about the loss of biodiversity. She credits Guarino for reminding her — and her book editor — that seeds are not only sexy; they are sex. Watch their long-distance Google Hangout below.

 
*See some footage of the Global Seed Vault in this QUEST television segment about efforts to preserve seed diversity in America’s Midwest.
 

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Category: Biodiversity, Blog, Climate, Engineering, Environment, Food, Sustainable Food

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Lisa Landers

About the Author ()

Lisa Landers is a producer and writer whose work includes documentaries, museum exhibitions, and educational multimedia. Her work has covered a diversity of subject matter including natural history, ecological and social issues, cultural exploration, food, music, and architecture. She’s developed and produced films for broadcasters such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Channel, and the Discovery Channel. Her work as an exhibition developer and multimedia producer has been featured at institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, the National Building Museum, and The Tech Museum. Her writing has also appeared in a wide variety of print and online publications.
  • http://www.andrewwooldridge.com triptych

    I wish this could become a sort of Seedy@Home (like SETI@Home) where seeds get disbursed across the world and folks work to preserve and germinate them.