Icy Preserve for Protecting Plants in Peril


冰天雪地保存植物生機


The entrance to the Global Seed Vault, on a Norwegian Island near the North Pole. This week it received its first seeds, under a project to store every type of seed from every seed collection in the world. More Photos >

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Published: February 29, 2008


LONGYEARBYEN, Norway – With plant species disappearing at an alarming rate, scientists and governments are creating a global network of plant banks to store seeds and sprouts, precious genetic resources that may be needed for man to adapt the world’s food supply to climate change.
隨著植物種類以嚇人的速度滅絕,學界和官界正在建立全球植物銀行網,儲存種子和幼芽,對於人類因應氣候變遷供應全球糧食方面,珍貴的遺傳種源可能派得上用場。


The leader of that effort, the Global Seed Vault near here, received its first seeds, millions of them. Bored into the middle of a frozen Arctic mountain topped with snow, the vault’s goal is to store and protect samples of every type of seed from every seed collection in the world.
活動的領導者、挪威的「全球種子地窖」最近收到第一批種子,有幾百萬粒。這座地窖是在北極區鑽開一座白雪皚皚的冰凍山岳中間而建成,目標是儲存和保護全球收集到的每一批種子中每一類種子的樣本。


Global Seed Vault

Thousands of neatly stacked and labeled gray boxes of seeds – peas from Nigeria, corn from Mexico – reside in this glazed cavelike structure, forming a sort of backup hard drive, in case natural disasters or human errors erase the seeds from the outside world.
幾千箱堆放整齊、貼了標示的灰色箱子,裡面裝了種子,有奈及利亞的豆子和墨西哥的玉米種子,儲存在這座有冰層覆蓋如洞穴般的建築內,功能類似備用硬碟,以防外面世界的種子萬一遭到天災人禍滅絕。


Descending almost 150 meters under the permafrost, the entrance tunnel to the seed vault is designed to withstand bomb blasts and earthquakes. An automated digital monitoring system controls temperature and provides security akin to a missile silo. No one person has all the codes for entrance.
這座地窖深入永凍土下近150公尺,通往種子地窖的入口隧道的設計禁得起炸彈爆炸和地震。自動監控系統控制溫度,並提供類似地下飛彈發射台的安全措施。沒有人握有進入地窖的所有密碼。


Longyearbyen is in Norway, 600 miles from the North Pole.

The Global Vault is part of a broader effort to gather and systematize information about plants and their genes, which climate change experts say may indeed prove more valuable than gold. In Leuven, Belgium, scientists are scouring the world for banana samples and preserving their shoots in liquid nitrogen before they become extinct. A similar effort is under way in France on coffee plants. A number of plants, most from the tropics, do not produce seeds that can be stored.
全球種子地窖是收集植物和它們的基因,並把有關資訊系統化的廣泛工程的一部分,氣候變遷專家說,此一收藏可能確實證明比黃金還貴重。比利時魯汶的科學家在世界各地收集香蕉樣本,把香蕉的幼苗保存在液態氮中,以防絕種。法國對於咖啡樹也在進行類似的工作。一些植物,大部分來自於熱帶,不會產生可供保存的種子。


For years, a mixed network of seed banks has been amassing seed and shoot collections in a haphazard manner. Labs in Mexico banked corn species. Those in Nigeria banked cassava. Now these efforts are being urgently consolidated and systematized, in part because of better technology to preserve plant genes and in part because of the rising alarm about climate change and its impact on world food production.
多年來,一個混雜的種子銀行網,亂無章法地收集種子和幼苗。墨西哥實驗室儲存各種玉米。奈及利亞實驗室儲存木薯。現在這些工作被緊急整合和系統化,部分原因是氣候變遷及對其衝擊全球糧食生產的憂慮持續升高。


“We started thinking about this post-9/11 and on the heels of Hurricane Katrina,” said Cary Fowler, president of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a nonprofit group that runs the vault. “Everyone was saying, why didn’t anyone prepare for a hurricane before? We knew it was going to happen.”
經營管理地窖的非營利團體「全球作物多樣性信託基金會」主席凱瑞‧法勒說:「在911恐怖攻擊和卡翠納颶風後,我們開始思考這個問題。人人都說,我們明知道有颶風會來,為何之前沒有人未雨綢繆?」


The urgency of the problem was underscored as wheat prices rose to record highs and wheat stores dropped to the lowest level in 35 years. A series of droughts and new diseases cut wheat production in many parts of the world. “The erosion of plants’ genetic resources is really going fast,” said Dr. Rony Swennen, head of the division of crop biotechnology at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, who has preserved half of the world’s 1,200 banana types. “We’re at a critical moment and if we don’t act fast, we’re going to lose a lot of plants that we may need.”
隨著小麥價格飆漲到歷史新高,儲存量則降到35年來新低,更凸顯了問題的急迫性。一連串的旱災和新病蟲害使世界許多地方的小麥產量減少。比利時天主教魯汶大學的作物生物科技部門主管羅尼.史文南說:「植物遺傳種源被侵害的速度確實很快。」他保存了全球1,200種香蕉品種的半數。「我們處於關鍵時刻,如果我們不快速反應,將損失許多我們也許需要的植物。」


The United Nations International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, ratified in 2004, created a formal global network for banking and sharing seeds, as well as for studying their genetic traits.
聯合國2004年批准糧農植物遺傳資源國際公約,建立了全球儲存和共享種子,以及研究種子遺傳特性的正式網絡。


A system of plant banks could be crucial in responding to climate crises since it could identify genetic material and plant strains better able to cope with a changed environment.
建立植物銀行體系對因應氣候危機可能極為關鍵,因為這個體系能確定遺傳物質和植物品種類別,增強因應環境變化的能力。


Here at the Global Vault, hundreds of boxes containing seeds from Syria to Mexico were recently moved into a freezing vault to be placed in suspended animation. They harbor a vast range of qualities, like the ability to withstand drier, warmer climate.
在全球種子地窖,幾百個箱子裝了從敘利亞到墨西哥的各地種子,最近被送進一個冷凍的保險庫,進入假死狀態。這些種子具有各種不同的特性,像是能忍受更乾燥和更溫暖氣候的能力。


Climate change is expected to bring new weather stresses, as well as new plant pests into agricultural regions. Heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions will produce not just global warming but an increase in extreme weather events, like floods and droughts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded.
聯合國跨政府氣候變遷小組的結論是,氣候變遷將帶來新的天氣壓力,以及把新的植物害蟲帶到農業區。排放二氧化碳產生的大氣增溫效應不單將使全球暖化,也會使極端異常的氣候災害增多,像是洪水和旱災。


The importance and vulnerability of seed banks have become apparent in recent years. Seed banks in Afghanistan and Iraq were destroyed during conflicts in those nations, by looters who were after the plastic containers that held the seeds. In the Philippines, a typhoon bore through the wall of a seed bank, destroying numerous samples.
種子銀行的重要性和脆弱性近年來日益明顯。阿富汗和伊拉克的種子銀行在這些國家的衝突中被暴民摧毀,他們覬覦用來裝種子的塑膠容器。在菲律賓,一個颱風吹毀一間種子銀行的牆,摧毀許多樣本。


On Wednesday, workers moved boxes of hundreds of seeds in the Global Seed Vault near Longyearbyen, on a Norwegian island.

In reviewing seed banks a few years ago, Dr. Fowler said: “We said, we may have some of the best seed banks in the world, but look at where they are: Peru, Colombia, Syria, India, Ethiopia, the Philippines. So a lot of us were asking, what’s plan B?”
法勒回顧幾年前的種子銀行時說:「我們說,我們也許有一些全球最好的種子銀行,但看看它們所在的地方:秘魯、哥倫比亞、敘利亞、印度、衣索比亞和菲律賓。因此我們之間很多人問,B計畫是什麼?」


The goal of the new global plant banking system is to protect the precious stored plant genes from the vagaries of climate, politics and human error. Many banks are now “in countries where the political situation is not stable, and it is difficult to rely on refrigeration,” Dr. Swennen said. Seeds must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius, that is, well below freezing, and plants that rely on cryopreservation must be far colder.
新的全球植物銀行體系的目標是保護珍貴的已儲存植物基因,免於被氣候、政治和人為疏失等難以預測的異常情況破壞。史文南說,許多銀行目前設在「政治情勢不穩定的國家,而且要依賴冷凍保存十分困難」。種子必須儲存在攝氏零下20度,也就是比冰點的溫度還低得多,依賴冷凍保存的植物必須在更低的溫度下。


Underground near Longyearbyen, just 965 kilometers from the North Pole, the seeds will stay frozen despite power failures. The Global Crop Diversity trust is also financing research into methods for storing genetic material from plants like bananas and coconuts that cannot be stored as seed.
靠近距北極只有965公里的朗伊爾城地底下,就算停電,種子也能保持冷凍狀態。全球作物多樣性信託基金會也資助研究儲存遺傳物質的方法,用於某些種子無法儲存的植物,像是香蕉和椰子。


“You need a system to conserve the variety so it doesn’t go extinct,” Dr. Fowler said. “A farmer may make a bowl of porridge with the last seeds of a strain that is of no use to him, and then it’s gone. And potentially those are exactly the genes we will need a decade later.”
法勒說:「你需要一套保存各種品種的系統,以免絕種。一位農夫也許拿對他沒有用的某個品種的最後一些種子煮一碗粥,這個品種就絕種了。而這些可能正是我們在十年後需要的基因。」


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