The seeds we rely on for food are being genetically altered by a handful of large corporations, and the companies that produce these seeds admit that there is no way to keep genetically engineered seeds from contaminating ordinary crops. We?re facing a future where all our crops will be grown from newly-engineered sources and older versions of crops, that have lasted through centuries of changing environmental conditions, will be lost forever. It looks like Big Business has triumphed over common sense, and short term profits have won out over long term security.

But there is a group of people in England who are doing something about it. The new Royal Botanic Gardens millennium seed bank in the small village of Ardingly in Sussex now holds 290 million seeds and plans to store tens of millions more. This is a modern $115 million laboratory and storage center where seeds are X-rayed to check for insect damage, gently cleaned, then dried out for weeks. Once they?re ready, they are put in glass containers in a radiation-proof underground vault and stored at subzero temperatures, where they can survive a nuclear blast. They are expected to last for 200 years or more. All that will be needed to start them growing again will be a little water, some oxygen and return to a suitable temperature.

Right now the group is most interested in the seeds of wild plants. The current worldwide trend of cutting down wilderness areas and replanting them with crops or landscaping plants means that the biodiversity of the earth is becoming greatly reduced. Scientists estimate that one-quarter of the world?s remaining 270,000 plant species will be extinct by 2050. If the weather should change drastically, or if new medicines are needed urgently, we will have nowhere to go to look for them.

The seed collectors want to have at least 20,000 seeds available for each plant. “Most seeds do not look very exciting, but they are tiny miracles of packaging, containing all the genetic information for the next generation of plants,” said Trevor Butler, the project?s spokesman.

Some of them have risked their lives entering war zones in poor countries to collect seeds. They?ve climbed mountains, waded through treacherous waters, and escaped from kidnappers in order to find the seeds of rare plants.

Britain is the first country to use a seed bank, and so far, they have stored seeds from almost all of the 1,400 cultivated plant species in their country. There are also seeds here from 4,000 wild plants. Their 10-year goal is to save seeds from 24,000 species, which represents only 10% of the world?s plants.

The urge to save seeds is not confined to England. The San Antonio psychologist Constance Clear, who is the author of Reaching for Reality, runs encounter groups for people who have had close encounters. She says that several of her new clients have confided that they feel compelled to save seeds. John Mack, the Harvard Psychiatrist who also works with experiencers, has noted that one of the most common changes these people go through is developing a deep concern about the future of the environment.

When Prince Charles, who is an admitted environmentalist, dedicated the new seed bank on November 20, he said, “I want to make certain that I have some plants left to talk to in the future.”




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