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from the seeds

It would be difficult to find a place more remote than the icy wilderness of Svalbard. It is the farthest north you can fly on a commercial airline, and apart from the nearby town of Longyearbyen, it is a vast white expanse of frozen emptiness.

The seeds lying in the deep freeze of the vault include wild and old varieties, many of which are not in general use anymore. And many don’t exist outside of the seed collections they came from. But the genetic diversity contained in the vault could provide the DNA traits needed to develop new strains for whatever challenges the world or a particular region will face in the future.One of the 200,000 varieties of rice within the vault could have the trait needed to adapt rice to higher temperatures, for example, or to find resistance to a new pest or disease. This is particularly important with the challenges of climate change. “Not too many think about crop diversity as being so fundamentally important, but it is. It is almost as important as water and air,” says Haga. “Seeds generally are the basis for everything. Not only what we eat, but what we wear, nature all about us.”

Over the past 50 years, agricultural practices have changed dramatically, with technological advances allowing large-scale crop production. But while crop yields have increased, biodiversity has decreased to the point that now only about 30 crops provide 95% of human food-energy needs. Only 10% of the rice varieties that China used in the 1950s are still used today, for example. The U.S. has lost over 90% of its fruit and vegetable varieties since the 1900s. This monoculture nature of agriculture leaves food supplies more susceptible to threats such as diseases and drought.

There are as many as 1,700 versions of the vault, called gene banks, all over the world. This global network collects, preserves and shares seeds to further agricultural research and develop new varieties. The Svalbard vault was opened in 2008, effectively as a backup storage unit for all those hundreds of thousands of varieties. The idea was conceived in the 1980s by Cary Fowler, a former executive director of the Crop Trust, but only started to become reality after an International Seed Treaty negotiated by the U.N. was signed in 2001. Construction was funded by the Norwegian government, which operates the vault in partnership with the Crop Trust. The goal is to find and house a copy of every unique seed that exists in the global gene banks; soon the vault will make room for its millionth variety. It also works in tandem with those gene banks when their material is lost or destroyed.

The entrance leads to a small tunnel-like room filled with the loud whirring noise of electricity and cooling systems required to keep the temperature within the vault consistent. Through one door is a wide concrete tunnel illuminated by strip lighting leading 430 ft. down into the mountain. At the end of this corridor is a chamber, an added layer of security to protect the vaults containing the seeds.

Cede means “to yield or grant typically by treaty.” Most of the verb senses of seed are concerned with planting seeds (either literal, as of plants, or figuratively, as of ideas). However, the word may also be used to mean “to schedule (tournament players or teams) so that superior ones will not meet in early rounds.” If you relinquish or yield something you are ceding it, and if you are organizing the participants in a tournament you are seeding them.

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Do you cede or seed control?

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 2

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word ‘seed.’ Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Bukiyō na watashi ni totte ippo wa daiji
Kabosoi te de mo kiseki o okosu no yo

誰もが種を蒔いているんだ 未来へ
どこでどうやって咲くかなんて知らないけれど
美しいだけじゃ駄目なの
汚れても輝く様 やってきた事は確かだ
芽を出して ドントレットミーダウン

Bukiyō na watashi ni totte ippo wa daiji
Kabosoi te de mo kiseki o okosu no yo

Dare mo ga tane o maite kita n da jibun e
Risō no yō ni saku ka nante wakaranu keredo
Utsukushī dake ja tsumaranai
Dare de mo nai kokoro o sō
Tagayashita koto de itsu ka wa kagayaku no donto rettmi daun

Yatte kita koto wa tashika da
Unmei yo donto rettmi daun