Extreme weather could wipe out crucial food crops. So 100 scientists spent 6 years hunting for the plants' hardier wild cousins.
- As carbon emissions rise and the planet warms, domesticated crops like rice and wheat are losing nutritional value, and climate disasters are putting harvests and farmland at risk.
- Scientists keep seeds from important crops locked in seed vaults, but most vaults lack seeds from the wild relatives of important crops.
- Those wild cousin plants may be more adaptable to changing climates and could one day be used to mitigate food insecurity around the world.
- So an international non-profit called the Crop Trust scoured 25 countries to find 371 wild relatives of plant species like potatoes, rice, and carrots.
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In case a catastrophe hits, seeds from most plant species are locked safely in vaults deep within the Earth - a kind of agricultural insurance policy.
But a group of researchers is convinced this insurance doesn't quite cover all our bases.
According to an international non-profit called the Crop Trust, many seed vaults lack seeds from the wild cousins of domesticated crops, including some species of wild rice, lentils, potatoes, and carrots.
These wild crop relatives could be crucial in the effort to make the world's food system more resilient to climate change. Already, some domesticated crops are faltering in the face of extreme temperatures and drought. Those crops' wild cousins, however, could hold the genetic key to increasing their hardiness.
So for the last six years, more than 100 Crop Trust scientists have been scouring the planet for seeds.
The scientists traveled to 25 countries to find these species, according to a report the non-profit released on Tuesday.
All told, the scientists collected more than 4,600 seed samples from 371 species of plants - many of which are endangered- related to 28 globally important crops.
"We have made incredible progress tracking down crop wild relatives that could hold the key to food's survival," Marie Haga, the outgoing executive director of the Crop Trust, said in a press release. "But there is more to be done, and as threats to the world's biodiversity mount, this work is more urgent than ever."
Here's what the six-year quest looked like.