October 20, 2016
Arctic ‘Doomsday Vault’ Opened For A Secret Withdrawal – Here’s How A Manmade Calamity Successfully Tested The Failsafe

The Arctic "Doomsday Vault," a huge seed bank, recently had its first ever withdrawal. Some of the seeds housed in the vault were secretly withdrawn and are in the process of being replanted. The withdrawal happened due to escalation of war in Syria, but on the plus side, it has proven that the failsafe for the world's food grains works.

In the first ever withdrawal from Svalbard Global Seed Vault, routinely referred to as the "doomsday" seed vault in the frigid Arctic, thousands of varieties of seeds have safely made their way to Morocco and Lebanon. Incidentally, all of the seeds taken out of the doomsday vault were originally housed in Syria. However, the war-ravaged country is no longer considered to be a safe haven for storing seeds that might save food crops in case of a natural or manmade calamity.

It was a manmade calamity, war, that forced the first ever withdrawal from the Arctic doomsday vault. In a secret shipment, about 38,000 seed samples were shipped to research stations in Morocco and Lebanon. The continually deteriorating situation in Syria prevented scientists at an important gene bank in Aleppo from continuing their work without risking their lives. Aleppo has been the center of multiple bloody conflicts that has threatened the survival of the research center and its staff. Aleppo was an important region because it helped new strains of drought- and heat-resistant wheat to develop and thrive.

The seeds housed in the research center needed to be preserved for the future generations and hence were also stored in the Arctic doomsday vault. However, since Aleppo's research center couldn't function, scientists decided to withdraw some of their inventory of seeds. The seeds were painstakingly sourced from around the Fertile Crescent, but attempting to source them again would be akin to suicide in the dangerous regions torn apart by internal conflicts.

Some of the seeds include those of wheat, barley, lentil and chickpea, reported CNN. Worryingly, quite a few of the seeds housed in the vault were the last of their kind.

Their preservation and re-cultivation is of vital importance to ensure that the species of the crop continues to exist. Moreover, bio-engineers caution that diversification, or ensuring multiple strains of the same crop interacting, is critical to the development of newer variants that can resist infections, which can be responsible for sudden mass-extinction.

The Doomsday Vault is essentially an organized seed bank operated by the Norwegian government. It contains a seed of just about every known crop in the world. Operated by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or ICARDA, it is meant to be humanity's backup in the event of a catastrophe that devastates crops.

The seeds housed in the vault are sort of a failsafe or a chance to begin farming anew. Since its opening about eight years ago, gene banks and organizations around the world have deposited about 860,000 samples of seeds, reported MSN. The vault is remotely located on the outskirts of Longyearbyen, the main city in Svalbard in Norway. A gray structure blends perfectly with the surrounding frigid region. Carved inside a mountain, the Arctic Doomsday Vault can be accessed by a single 120-meter-long (400-foot-long) tunnel into the mountain. Inside sit row-upon-row of seeds carefully cataloged. Alongside food grains, scientists have also stored marijuana seeds to ensure weed survives the apocalypse.

Though a war forced scientists to hastily withdraw seeds from the Arctic doomsday vault, they are content that the system of safekeeping seeds and then carefully reintroduce them as and when needed, works, said Arni Bragason, director of NordGen, which co-manages the Svalbard vault.

"It is wonderful to see the Vault is already proving its worth, and that we have been able to help our friends in the Middle East to continue their vital work."

[Image Credit | Daniel Sannum Lauten / Getty Images]