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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The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

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How to Watch SpaceX’s Historic Astronaut Launch Live

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken make their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken make their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After scrubbing its original launch on May 27 due to bad weather, SpaceX will attempt to make history yet again today (May 30) when it launches its first crewed spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3:22 p.m. EDT. Powered by a Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will transport NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station, marking the company's first-ever crewed mission and the first crewed launch from the U.S. since 2011. If you want to watch the momentous event from home, there are plenty of ways to stream it live online.

Both SpaceX and NASA will be hosting livestreams of the May 30 launch. NASA's webcast kicks off at 11 a.m. EDT today with live looks at the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. The feed will continue streaming until the afternoon of Sunday, May 31, with the spacecraft set to dock at the International Space Station at 10:29 a.m. EDT. You can catch the coverage on NASA's website, its social media channels (including YouTube), or on the NASA TV channel through cable or satellite. SpaceX's stream will be broadcast on the company's YouTube channel. (You can watch the video below).

Several television networks will be covering the event (check your local listings), and ABC News Live will partner with National Geographic to air "Launch America: Mission to Space Live" at 3 p.m. EDT.

The launch has been scheduled down to the minute, but SpaceX still has time to change that depending on the weather. Wednesday's launch was canceled less than 17 minutes before liftoff, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has already tweeted that there's a 50 percent chance that weather could prove problematic once again. If today's launch doesn't happen according to plan, there is another window set aside for a third attempt tomorrow, Sunday, May 31, at 3 p.m. EDT, with CNN reporting that the odds of cooperative weather being slightly higher—about 60 percent—for tomorrow.

This story has been updated.