Photographer Dornith Doherty has spent the past few years photographing "seed vault" facilites all over the world. These are exactly what they sound like: vast buildings devoted to preserving the seeds of as many plants as possible, partly for scientific research and partly to hedge our bets as more and more plants go extinct. Some of these vaults, like the Svalbard "Doomsday" Seed Vault in Norway, are designed to withstand global catastrophe, including wars and climate disaster. Sponsored in part by Monsanto, the Doomsday Seed Vault could also be the genetic tool set for future synthetic biologists looking to create better food crops, or even to design foods we could grow in space.

Other vaults, like the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in the U.S. and the Millennium Seed Bank in England, are vast botanical databases for researchers — and, potentially, for survivors of the apocalypse.


These are real-life versions of the seed vault that Paolo Bacigalupi imagines for Thailand in The Windup Girl, where secret agents for agribusiness comb the world's markets seeking genetically novel fruits. Because the world is packed with GMO stocks that are all vulnerable to the same rust diseases, these calorie spies hope to find disease-resistant food crops.

Wired's Pete Brook has posted a set of amazing photos by Doherty, describing the vaults as "a global botanical backup system":

Global efforts to preserve seed stock for an uncertain future are no more evident than at the Svalbard "Doomsday" Seed Vault, which Doherty visited and photographed in March 2010. Located 800 miles south of the North Pole, on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Svalbard Seed Vault is the world's insurance policy against botanical holocaust. The $9 million facility houses over 10,000 seed samples and was likened to a Bond villain's lair when it began operation in January 2008 . . . Not only is the vault impervious to temperature fluctuations and sea-level rises, it can withstand a terrorist attack. "The door is not on axis with the tunnel, there is a small curved wall in line with the tunnel engineered to disperse a blast radius," says Doherty.

Visit Dornith Doherty's website.

You can read more about these facilities, and see more photos, at Wired.

Largest seeds in the world, at Millennium Seed Bank.

Genetic Resource Center Seed Vials

Doomsday Seed Vault

Doomsday Seed Vault