Unlocking the Seed Vault

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Aleppo, Syria, plagued by war, the region has been in political discussions for months. Aleppo is also the home of a major seed bank, one that has been inaccessible since its abandonment in 2012.

On September 29th, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), officially opened a sister branch in Terbol, Lebanon. Working with another ICARDA bank in Rabat, Morocco the organization will once again provide access to the seeds for researches.

Seed banks work like  traditional banks in many ways. Deposits consist of seeds that are different genetic variations. When conflict or disease wipes out a crop, collectors withdraw seeds to rebuild and plant new crops. Or when researchers want to develop new traits in crops.

Looking To Nature For Answers

Aleppo was previously the sole bank for ICARDA housing 141,000 seeds. So far 50,000 of these seed types have been copied and sent to one of the new sister banks. Aleppo’s collection gathered seeds from the world’s dry regions, including the Fertile Crescent. This is  important because scientists believe studying plants from this region may lead to breakthroughs in adjusting crops to the world’s climate change.

A recent discovery shows that adding microbes to the soil makes trees less drought-vulnerable. The study used young poplar trees. The trees given microbial additives remained green, growing in drought conditions, while the unaided trees died.

But, microbial additives are just the beginning. Regaining access to the seed bank in Aleppo means researches can look at what makes certain crops less water dependent, and how they may survive the uncertainty of climate change.

By understanding how plants adapt to survive, we can create stronger, more diverse crops. In turn supporting the globe’s growing population. Unlocking the vault in Aleppo, and granting researchers access to the seeds once more is a step toward improved international agriculture.

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