PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 27, 2014
Beer and whiskey lovers, raise a glass to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which has just taken in 20,000 new crop varieties—including 575 types of barley.
The seeds, sourced from more than a hundred countries, arrived this week to coincide with the vault's sixth birthday. As a "safety deposit box" to protect the diversity of the world's food genes, the advanced facility houses 820,619 crop varieties in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Norway (map), according to Luigi Guarino, senior scientist with theGlobal Crop Diversity Trust, one of the vault's partners. (Related: "Pictures: 'Doomsday' Seed Vault Safeguards Our Food Supply.")
The goal of the vault is to safely preserve as many different varieties of crop species as possible before they disappear. As we've come to rely on just a handful of the highest yielding varieties of fruits, vegetables, and grains, thousands of other varieties are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Given an uncertain future, with climate change and diseases that could wipe out a variety overnight, scientists say it's important to keep as many different crop varieties as we can.
Many research universities and institutes worldwide already maintain their own gene banks of food crops—essentially refrigerators of dried seeds. But these facilities can be vulnerable to disasters such as civil war, typhoons, and fires, said Guarino. That's where the Global Seed Vault—also called the Doomsday Seed Vault—comes in.