I had the pleasure of visiting the USDA National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It’s basically a vault for preserving crops of agricultural or industrial importance. This sturdy, plain building houses millions of samples of genetic material from the plants and animals that we depend upon for sustenance and livelihood. The building itself is tucked inside a corner of Colorado State University’s campus.
Though it looks much like the structures around it, this building is made entirely of concrete and reinforced with rebar. It is designed to weather any of the natural disasters that could affect the surrounding town. This structure is a vault, and it’s built to last. The National Center of Genetic Resources Preservation is a government-funded failsafe. Samples of our most important agricultural crops are kept there so that if our supply of, say, wheat was threatened by an aggressive new breed of locust, that there would still be some viable samples of the seeds to test and make resistant to the predator.
The samples are stored in a huge freezer, or, if they can survive the process, in cryostorage. These storage methods preserve the seeds for up to several hundred years, and the samples are tested regularly for viability. The center also retains a large collection of genetic material from livestock. The vault has also been utilized for storing backup samples for large corporations like DuPont and Monsanto. Their work with these giants has recently brought them under fire, when some genetically modified wheat was discovered in a field in Oregon, but the vault had no real connection to that, and has been cleared of wrongdoing in that case.
Truthfully, the seed vault is a remarkable example of well thought out preparedness. The lives of people all over the world depend on the genetic information stored in this unassuming building on the Colorado plains.