Deep freeze seed bank initiated
Published: 11 August 2006 (GMT+10)Friday 11 August 2006
Photo by Pioneer Hi-Bred International
Construction of a ‘doomsday’ seed bank started on 19 June, near the town of Longyearbyen, on the remote island of Spitsbergen, only 1,120 km from the North Pole. The prime ministers of five Nordic countries gathered for the occasion.1
The seed vault, to be underground in the side of a rocky mountain, will be built to withstand all conceivable disasters, even an atom bomb. It has been designed to back up existing seed collections around the world, some of which are vulnerable, and will contain up to 3 million seeds.
The ground remains frozen all the time in this part of the world, meaning that even if the refrigeration designed to keep the seeds at deep-freeze temperature of below -18°C fails, it will take up to months for the temperature to rise to that of the surrounding sandstone (about -4°C). A combination of low temperature and storage in aluminium foil to keep out moisture will ensure that the seeds remain viable for up to thousands of years—so claims the report in Nature.2
However, this is wishful thinking—there is no way known to store seeds of most plants so as to maintain their viability for thousands of years. Experts at the Federal ex situ Genebank in Germany made this point in correspondence to Nature:
‘ … the vast majority of plant seeds cannot be stored for more than 40 years without losing germination vigour, however low the temperature and however thick the concrete walls of the vault.’3
The government of Norway is funding the construction of the facility and a trust has been formed to pay for the yearly maintenance. No permanent staff will man the facility.
Why preserve seeds?
Why the need for such a repository of the seeds? As Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said, ‘It will contribute to ensuring our food security’.1 A spokesman for the Global Diversity Trust, the Rome-based charity that has helped organize the bank, called the genetic diversity in the seed collections ‘the most valuable natural resource in the world’.1
As farmers adopted varieties bred by plant breeders, they abandoned the old traditional varieties and many of these are now only preserved in the seed banks. Those abandoned varieties have genes in them that are missing from the modern highly selected varieties often grown in huge areas (monoculture)—as we have pointed out, selection causes loss of genetic information. For example, if you select wheat for short stems, then you are eliminating genes that result in long stems (wild wheat will have genes for both, resulting in a mixture of plants of variable height, which does not make such plants suitable for mechanical harvesting).
Everyone agrees that loss of genetic diversity is a bad thing because it is the source of possibly important future genetic information for the breeding of plants—such as breeding for disease resistance, or nutritional characteristics that are not currently appreciated. An example of the latter is the glycemic index (GI) of a cereal product, which indicates how quickly the starch in a food is converted into blood sugar (glucose). GI has only recently been recognized as important in human nutrition. Jasmine rice, which is very popular with Chinese food, has an extremely high GI, which is not good for the health of sedentary people. Some traditional varieties grown in Bangladesh have very low GI, which is much better. If the low GI varieties had been lost, it might not have been possible to breed new varieties with low GI. Seed banks ensure that such genetic information is preserved. For more on the need for preserving seeds, see ‘What! … no potatoes?’
If all the genetic information in plants arose by accidental changes (mutations) over billions of years, without any intelligent input—the usual evolutionary dogma—then surely intelligent scientists, with all their accumulated knowledge, can create a few genes here and there? Well, no, in spite of the phenomenal advance of scientific knowledge, it is beyond the ability of scientists to invent new functional genes just yet—to confer disease resistance, for example. And yet many of those same scientists accept the evolutionary dogma that all the information, all the genes, effectively made themselves without any intelligent input from anyone. It is not terribly logical.
Of course true believers (in evolution), such as the antitheist Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, argue that natural selection acted like a filter to find and preserve rare information-adding mutations, thus creating all the hundreds of thousands of genes with all their control systems that are represented in plants, including the amazing photosynthetic system.
Natural selection does operate in today’s world, but it merely gets rid of the unfit, rather than creating the fit. See ‘Variation and natural selection versus evolution’. And there are heaps of the unfit to get rid of because of the destructive effects of mutations, which scramble the genetic information—they are known by the havoc they cause. There is a web site devoted to human diseases caused by mutations called ‘The Human Gene Mutation Database’. At the date of writing, over 60,000 disease-causing mutations had been identified in humans.
The informed evolutionist would admit that just selecting plants for disease resistance won’t generate it if the genetic information was not already in the seeds of the plants under investigation. They would insist that all this information arose by natural processes over eons of time, but ‘explain’ that there is not enough time in breeding experiments to see such new information arise. However, there is not enough time, even given evolutionary notions of deep time, for natural selection to get rid of all the information-destroying mutations or just to spread some supposed new mutation in a population—Haldane’s dilemma is a huge, unresolved problem for evolution, making it unworkable, even given eons of time. It is like a supermarket making a small loss on every item except an occasional product that makes a small profit: the supermarket will never make an overall profit. And the longer it goes on the worse the problem gets—time is not the hero of the plot that many evolutionists think it is. See also, ‘Weasel, a flexible program for investigating deterministic computer “demonstrations” of evolution’ for a refutation of Dawkins’ fallacious ‘simulation’.
In spite of all the intelligence of scientists, they cannot invent / create the biological information needed for disease resistance or drought tolerance in plants, for example, but the evolutionists among them expect us to believe that the same information that they cannot create came into existence by blind natural processes without any intelligence whatsoever.
The science of genetics would benefit from an injection of logical thinking: complex coded information speaks of creative intelligence, not dumb natural processes. Such logical thinking would surely help advance the science of genetics and the breeding of plants to efficiently feed and clothe the world’s population. Biblical thinking makes for good science.
- Charles D., Species conservation: A ‘forever’ seed bank takes root in the Arctic. Science 312(5781):1730–1731, 23 June 2006. Return to text.
- Ruttiman, J., Doomsday food store takes pole position. Nature 441(7096):912–913 (22 June 2006) Published online 21 June 2006. Return to text.
- Graner, A. and Börner, A., Quest for seed immortality is mission impossible. Nature 442(7101):353, 27 July 2006. Return to text.