The Vaults Of Dormant Life: Seed Banks And Their Role In Promoting Global Sustainability


Human-caused climate change is putting plant life at risk, which in turn threatens global food security and biodiversity. Seed banks, of which there are more than 1,000 around the world, are helping to address these issues. Read on to learn more about the fascinating story behind and importance of seed banks!


I walk inside a one-story, high-roofed stone and clay brick building and am hit immediately by the cold air inside. I am surrounded by white walls arranged around a hexagonal hardwood floor. Within the wall, there are hundreds of small holes (which previously provided homes for carrier pigeons) each holding a jar of seeds. These jars are labeled with Spanish words, sloppily penned in ink.



You would never have known this upon looking at the outside of the building, but there are actually tens of thousands of seeds stored in here, each waiting in chilly air for the perfect moment to sprout and capitalize on their one shot at life.


By now, you’re probably wondering- what is this bizarre building? It’s what is known as a seed bank: a place where seeds are stored for short-term use in farming or for long-term preservation. This one is in Amayuelas de Abajo, a tiny agriculturally-based village in Spain with a population of 25. This is a picture I took while visiting the town for an Environmental Club trip through my school- that’s the entire town.


Seed banks- whether traditional like this one in Amayuelas, or high-tech like the Svalbard global seed vault in Norway- are vital in preserving biodiversity and food security for future generations and, essentially, in promoting agricultural sustainability.

Now, you might ask: how can simply storing seeds help human society so greatly in the ways aforementioned? Well, consider the impact of plants in your life. For example, imagine a typical kitchen like the one pictured below. The cupboards are made of wood, which comes from trees. Other plant products such as vegetables and oil are arranged on the countertop. Perhaps the stone used to create this countertop was formed millions of years ago when plant-based sediments were buried and compacted underground. Flowering plants line the windowsill to brighten up the room. Beyond this windowsill, numerous trees stand tall, presenting fall colors. They prosper in an atmosphere that was shaped by plant evolution hundreds of millions of years ago, and is still greatly affected by plant life today.


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Essentially, your everyday life is filled with plants and plant products which are used for various purposes, whether they be agricultural, aesthetic, medicinal, educational, etc. Humanity truly wouldn’t be able to function without plants. Yet humanity- specifically, human-induced climate change- poses the most monumental threat to plant life. According to a recent report in the journal Science, between 22% and 47% of all plant species are endangered, and these percentages are expected to climb further in the coming years.


In order to protect ourselves from this endangerment and extinction crisis, we must use and recognize the importance of seed banks. Today, there are over 1,000 seed banks all over the world. Many of these banks not only store seeds, but they also work to promote crop diversity, seed germination research, and plant conservation techniques. The Millennium Seed Bank in England’s Royal Botanic Gardens, for example, conducts germination testing on seeds every 10 years. It even has a greenhouse which grows plants for research and on-site seed collection.


Bente Naeverdal, manager of the Svalbard global seed vault (the largest in the world, storing over 900,000 samples), explains that “you don’t know what kind of seeds you can grow in 20, 30, 40 years from now because of climate change. Perhaps you will have to use a different kind of seed that can handle a warmer climate, drier climate, wetter climate….That is why it’s so important to have a backup of seeds so you can grow the food we need for the next generations.”


Seed banks are vaults of dormant plant life. They hold the promise of future plant biodiversity and food security. But only humanity- made of people like you who value plants and their protection- can unlock this potential.

Posted by Tyler Stotland on Oct 5, 2017 7:15 PM America/Chicago


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