What happens if we run out of seeds?

iStock
iStock

Plants are a crucial part of the environment, but in many ways they're frustratingly delicate. In the event of a major environmental or political crisis, they can't exactly hop on a plane to get away from the trouble, so we've got to take care of them. Governments around the world have started to realize that there could be a potentially devastating loss of biodiversity (not to mention nourishing crops) if certain species of plants fell victim to some sort of extinction event.

To avoid this sort of dire situation, many governments have created seed bank facilities that store seeds as a safeguard against any potential loss. Botanists collect the seeds, dry them, and preserve them in a freezer. Many properly stored seeds are viable for decades or even centuries; in 2005 researchers grew a Judean date palm from a 2,000-year-old seed found in the tomb of the biblical king Herod the Great. The concept of preserving biodiversity in seed banks has really caught on; there are around 1400 of them worldwide.

Preserving the Preserves

All of this preservation may sound great, but what if the seed banks themselves are destroyed? After all, if some environmental or nuclear event wipes out a country's plants, it could well take the seed banks with it. It's not an altogether unreasonable threat: in recent years, looters destroyed seed banks in Iraq and Afghanistan, while one in the Philippines fell victim to a typhoon.

Luckily, our Norwegian friends have thought of just these sorts of pitfalls. In 2006, the government of Norway began construction on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on Spitsbergen, an island in the Arctic Circle. The vault is designed to hold backup copies of seeds stored in seed banks around the world, so if anything happens to an individual bank, the seeds themselves aren't lost forever.

What makes the Global Seed Vault so sure it can safeguard these backups? For starters, it's not just some building perched on a Norwegian island; it's more of a Fort Knox for seeds. The vault is located 400 feet under the permafrost surface of a sandstone mountain, which should enable it to survive both earthquakes and bomb blasts. The vault may be full of envelopes of seeds rather than precious metals, but that doesn't mean security is lax. Supposedly no single person knows all the codes necessary to gain entrance to the vault. The vault has an array of sophisticated cooling equipment to keep the seeds at -0.4 degrees Fahrenheit, but since the surrounding soil is so cold, even if these artificial measures fail the seeds should remain relatively safe. Countries maintain ownership of any seeds they submit; the vault simply places them in safekeeping and allows depositors to control access to their seeds. [Photo courtesy of The Daily Green.]

The Global Seed Vault has been operational since last February, and so far it seems to be serving its purpose. The vault has received inaugural shipments of 100 million seeds from over 100 countries and funding from such luminaries as the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, so it's getting a good deal of international support.

Even with these large initial shipments, though, the vault is far from full. It's designed to hold 4.5 million samples of 500 seeds apiece. At full capacity, the vault will contain more than two billion seeds in a bomb-proof, climate-controlled environment well above sea level. Who knows what could happen to humans in the coming centuries, but you've got to feel pretty secure that our seeds are safe.

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Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

1. Apple AirPods Pro; $219

Apple

You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180

Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65

Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Light Smart Solar Powered Parking Sensor (Two-Pack); $155

FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46

Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

100 Fascinating Facts About Earth

The best Spaceball.
The best Spaceball.
NASA

Did you know that there’s a place in the South Pacific Ocean called Point Nemo that’s farther from land than any other point on Earth? So far, in fact, that the closest humans are usually astronauts aboard the International Space Station. (And by the way: The map you’re about to look for Point Nemo on might not be entirely accurate; a certain amount of distortion occurs when trying to depict a 3D planet on a 2D surface.)

In this all-new episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is journeying to the center of the Earth, and visiting its oceans, its atmosphere, and even space, in search of 100 facts about our endlessly fascinating planet.

The subjects that fall under the umbrella of “facts about Earth” are nearly as expansive as Earth itself. Geology, biology, astronomy, and cartography, are all fair game—and those are just a few of the many -ologies, -onomies, and -ographies you’ll learn about below. 

Press play to find out more Earth-shattering facts, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for more fact-filled videos here.