Conserving Diversity at the Dinner Table: Plants, Food Security and Gene Banks

With the ongoing East African drought crisis, the persisting threat of global climate change, and the world population now estimated at 7 billion, global concerns about food insecurity are again in the news. Little mentioned, however, is the continuing loss of genetic diversity of the foods we eat today—a trend that has rapidly accelerated since the twentieth century and that raises troubling questions about the vulnerability of the world’s food supply. One attempt to maintain plant biodiversity has been the establishment of gene banks—giant vaults to store seeds collected from around the globe. But there are serious questions over whether the collection of seeds from ancient Mesopotamian wheat, South American potatoes, or tropical plants in an isolated arctic catacomb can undo a recent history of agriculture that has emphasized bigger yields through modern, standardized varieties of crops.

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