“All human life, all life, depends on plants,” says Jonathan Drori in his TED talk about the Millenium Seed Bank. This project involves collecting seeds in an underground storage facility strong enough to withstand a nuclear attack. It holds over 2 billion seeds, which represent over 10% of the world’s variety of plants.
Drori points out that plants are important to humans for medicine, fuel, construction, clothing and, of course, food. The world’s oldest seed bank was created by Nikolai Vavilov to protect humanity’s food supply.
Vavilov was born in Moscow in 1887. He grew up in rural Russia in an area that faced crop failure, drought, and famine during his childhood. “According to one source, ‘he was obsessed from an early age with ending famine in both his native Russia and the world.’”
Vavilov determined that the biggest danger to food security was over dependence on single species of crops. If a disease or pest were to wipe out a species of plant, it could cause millions to starve. The solution to world hunger was genetic diversity. With enough seed diversity, scientists would be able to breed new varieties of plants that could withstand drought, pests, disease or whatever the danger might be.
Vavilov traveled the world visiting five continents collecting seeds and founded the world’s first seed bank in Leningrad. Vavilov fell out of favor with Stalin in 1941 and was arrested by the KGB. Vavilov only survived one year in prison due to a poor diet of frozen cabbage and moldy wheat. Ironically, the man who was obsessed with ending famine died of starvation.
Vavilov’s work did not end with his death. Not long after he was arrested, Leningrad was put under siege by the Nazis. It was a 2-and-a-half year siege under which over a million died, many due to starvation. It was under these conditions that the scientists who worked in Vavilov’s seed bank continued their work.
They guarded over 187,000 seeds while the city was being bombed. They didn’t only protect the seeds from being destroyed by bombs, but also from the citizens of Leningrad who were starving by the thousands. The scientists, too, were starving, so they made a rule that no scientist could be in a seed storage room alone for fear that he or she might eat the seeds. Over the course of the siege, nine scientists died of starvation to protect the future of millions of potential lives.
The Vavilov seed bank still continues its work today and is now one of hundreds of seed banks around the world that seek to secure the future of humanity.
from Blog – Deep English http://deepenglish.com/2016/09/scientists-gave-lives-protecting-seeds/