December 27, 2007
Coloful houses lie near the mountains in Longyearbyen, a village on the island of Spitsbergen, part of Norway
's Svalbard archipelago.
A mountainside near the town was chosen as the home for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a "doomsday" seed bank that will store backup copies of as many as three million different crop varieties in case of a worldwide catastrophe.
The high-tech vault, which will open for storage in February 2008, is going to "put an end to extinction [of] agricultural crops," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust in Rome, Italy, which is the leading force behind the project.
The mission is crucial, Fowler noted, because the stored seeds provide researchers with the raw genetic materials needed to adapt the global food supply to survive climate change as well as water and energy shortages.
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Photograph courtesy Peter Vermeij/Global Crop Diversity Trust