This story was originally published by Wired and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
In 2014, the remaining staff of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or ICARDA, fled their beloved gene bank in Tel Hadia, 20 miles south of Aleppo. Syria’s civil war, which had broken out three years earlier, had finally made the staffing of the facility untenable. But the scientists had already shipped off a resource of incalculable value: the seeds of the most important crops on Earth.
The destination of these little bits of genetic information was the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a frigid facility sticking out of the permafrost on a remote Arctic island. ICARDA staffers had been among the first to deposit seeds after the vault opened in 2008, stashing away unique varieties of chickpeas, lentils, and alfalfa, among many others. They were backing up their own collection, a standard practice among some 1,700 seed gene banks dotted around the world, which are meant to preserve the genes that code our essential crops for resistance to disease, pests, and climate change. Syria’s civil war ha... Read more