How ancient seeds from the Fertile Crescent could help save us from climate change

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2023-01-25 17:30:06

TERBOL, Lebanon — Inside a large freezer room at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, tens of thousands of seeds are stored at a constant temperature of minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit. After being threshed and cleaned, the seeds are placed inside small, sealed foil packets and stored on rows of heavy, sliding metal shelves.

The gene bank can hold as many as 120,000 varieties of plants. Many of the seeds come from crops as old as agriculture itself. They're sown by farmers in the Fertile Crescent region, where cultivation began some 11,000 years ago. Other seeds were deposited by researchers who've hiked in the past four decades through forests and mountains in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, searching for wild relatives of wheat, legumes and other crops that are important to the human diet.

The research center, formed in the 1970s, once mostly helped farmers in poorer countries in hot, dry climates. But now it also sends seeds to scientists in Europe, Canada and the United States, helping lead to breakthroughs in improving certain crops' resilience to the effects of climate change.

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