Tropical Seed Vault Reaps the Benefits of Crop Research

Saving the seeds that are stronger, tastier, and more resilient.

Farmers harvesting coffee.


Humans once lived as nomads in harmony with the nature around them.These hunter-gatherers lived off what they could forage while constantly on the move to track down new food resources.

With the advent of agriculture, mankind settled down to work the land, according to National Geographic. They built villages, towns and cities. Civilization, industry, technology, and research sprung out of human settlements. Empires were built and rebuilt and society was forever transformed.

In no small way, people owe the breadth of the history of human civilization to the taming of the humble seed. Domestication of wheat, corn, rice, and other grains transformed the world of the past.

And these crops will play a role in the world of the future as well. MongaBay reports Colombia’s tropical seed bank, Future Seeds, is investing in a future of plenty.

What is a seed bank?
Imagine a massive vault with seeds, saplings, and tissues from thousands of food staples categorized and stored in readiness for a future need. A seed bank is all that – and more –, according to the BBC . Not only do seed banks hold the genetic and physical materials for collections of crops in stasis in case of need, but these samples are used in active research as well. 

Sometimes the research has a historical focus. The CREA Research Centre for Vegetable and Ornamental Crops in Italy published the first pepper family tree. The tree traced the history of the domestication of peppers and when and where different varieties sprang up.

More often, sequencing and experimenting with plants’ genes and varieties allows scientists worldwide to collaborate on breeding better crops. 

Both traditional breeding (by selecting varieties to cultivate) and direct gene editing can produce plants that are larger, easier to grow, disease resistant, tastier, or more resilient. With the growing world population, ensuring a stable food supply has never been more important!

Future Seeds
Future Seeds recently joined the illustrious world of seed banks. As Reuters reports, the facility is the world’s largest genetic repository of tropical crops.

The facility opened with 6,000 cassava samples, 37,000 bean samples, and 22,600 samples of other tropical varieties. In addition, an online database with DNA sequences of these and other crops will help researchers plan for crop resilience and biodiversity.

The Plant Rover
In contrast to the online database, which can stay unmonitored, the tens of thousands of seeds will need to be constantly planted and grown, both to see how genetic changes play out in real life and to ensure a fresh seed selection.

To help with this aspect of research, the futuristic facility has recruited a “rover” farmer. In partnership with Google’s Project Mineral and other AI research companies, Future Seeds has designed “Don Roverto” as the field robotic researcher has been nicknamed. He will roam the fields and collect data in real time. 

Colombian President Ivan Duque inaugurated the innovative facility on March 15, 2022. At the ceremony, he summed up Future Seed’s goal: "Here we won't just have a seed bank, but a seed bank focused on satisfying the needs for feeding the whole planet.”

With its extensive collection and innovative approach to research, Future Seeds hopes to sow the seeds of a future of abundance. What research will they reap?

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