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Inside the Arctic Seed Vault Designed to Save Humanity From Extinction

Take a tour of the 'Noah's Ark' of agricultural diversity, designed to safely store over 4.5 million crop samples.
November 11, 2016, 4:11pm

In the Arctic Circle, on the far-northern Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, a drab facility carved into the mountainside could be humanity's last hope in the event of a global catastrophe. This is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a roughly 400-foot-long building designed to store seed samples for 4.5 million different varieties of crops from around the world, or 2.5 billion individual seeds. The vault even contains seeds from North Korea.


Among the crops stored in the cavernous underground ice tunnels at -18º C (-0.4º F): 150,000 samples of rice, and 140,000 samples of wheat. Now you can take a look inside as Motherboard tours this awe-inspiring facility.

The goal is to create a kind of genetic vault of human agriculture, or a "Noah's Ark" of genetic diversity, as the Global Seed Vault has been called.

Read More: Peru Keeps Thousands of Potato Seeds in an Earthquake-Proof Vault

For the non-farmers out there, you may not know that crops need genetic diversity to survive and thrive—that is, even a single type of plant (say wheat) needs to have several different genetic varieties to avoid being wiped out by pests and disease. Fortunately, there are a handful of gene banks around the world collecting and preserving seeds in order to ensure agricultural genetic diversity continues into the future. But what happens if one of these gene banks is destroyed?

That's where the Global Seed Vault comes in—it will be there to act as a kind of failsafe, or "backup" in the event that other gene banks around the world are lost. In a time of great uncertainty, it's a ray of hope for how humanity can come together across borders, and use science to ensure the survival of our species.

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