The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

By Grace Taylor
Entrance to the Seed Vault. (Subiet/Wikimedia Commons)

Tunneled into the icy tundra of Svalbard, Norway is a vault that holds the entire future of agriculture. Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the first of its kind, a gene bank for collecting and preserving every single unique set of genes for the millions of varieties of crops on earth. Seed banks have been around since the 1920s, but many of them have gone under due to environmental disasters, war, and plain old lack of funding.

That's bad because once a crop goes extinct, it's gone forever, and we don't know what the future holds in terms of the environment. Some traits may fare better than others, but without the genetic data, there will be no way to breed crops in the direction humanity needs them to evolve. For example, if you've ever heard someone born before the 1950s complain that bananas used to be sweeter and more flavorful, that's not just nostalgia goggles taken to biological extremes. They were literally eating different bananas, specifically the Gros Michel, which was nearly wiped out by the Panama Disease. Today, we eat stupid Cavendish bananas.