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The National Plant Genetic Resources Center Protects Seedlings of Hope
If the disastrous circumstances shown in the movie "2012: Doomsday" occurred in Taiwan, then The National Plant Genetic Resources Center (NPGRC) under the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) would become Taiwan's "Noah's ark" which protects "seedlings of hope" for rapid post-disaster resuscitation of farm crops.
Although the special-class construction built in 1993 does not look like a boat, the idea of its design was building the whole center on a ship, explained NPGRC section chief Huang Sheng-chung. He further explained that. When geological explorations confirmed that the stratum belongs to a stable gravel layer, the architect designed a slide-styled foundation for the building and connected all above-ground floors. So when an earthquake occurs, the whole building will swing with its foundation like a ship rolls in the storm. It will not collapse unless its foundation turns over. "This building is only 500 meters away from the Chelungpu fault, but it was intact after the 921 Earthquake of 1999 even though the foundation of some living quarters there were exposed," said Huang.
The internal structure of the Genetic Resources Center is also quite unusual. The core-like genebank is surrounded by offices, which were designed as isolation belts in organic farms. "It was designed in response to possible war situations. The genebank itself has very thick walls and the surrounding offices constitute another buffer wall. Even when bombed, the genebank would not be damaged," noted Huang.
Inside the tightly protected genebank, there are three preservation vaults to permanently conserve the lifeline of Taiwan crops. The long-term vault keeps 35,430 portions of 397 crop varieties for 30-50 years or longer, with the main concept of permanent conservation. The medium-term vault contains 70,111 portions of 639 crops, mainly for the purpose of exchange, reproduction and evaluation as well as basis material supplement to maintain the stable quality of genetic resources in the long-term vault. The short-term vault keeps genetic resources for ready access. Local research organizations can also apply for temporary storage of their research materials in the short-term vault.
Although many genetic resources will not be used soon or lack production values, but some of them may be valuable in the future. If we don't preserve them now, we will have nothing to use when they are needed. Huang cited the native Taiwan rice as an example.
The Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) has reserved a piece of farmland for native Taiwan rice to grow naturely without by any measures and agricultural chemical applicatime. "The rice grow healthily," said Huang. Since the rice is pest-resistant and can survive imder without water or flooding condition, it will become our only hope if no crops can be grown when we are struck by a catastrophe.
The Tainan Cotton and Hemp Research Branch Station was closed when the plastic industry collapsed local cotton and hemp market 30 years ago. "Fortunately," Huang said, "cotton and hemp genetic resources conserved by the institute are still there." If cotton and hemp become popular again when crude oil is exhausted 20 years later, these genetic resources will be priceless.
Of course, not all crops are reproduced by seeds. Therefore, some genetic resources have to be preserved in other ways. For example, since seedless crops are cultivated by using tissue cultures and they depend on pollination or cutting to maintain plant characteristics, their genetic resources can only be conserved in the field. The TARI has thus set up 7 field vaults for crop seeds.
In addition to this "Noah's ark" in Taiwan, the TARI has also preserved some genetic resources in the "doomsday seed vault," the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, based on the information industry's concept of backup for disaster recovery use. Taiwan formally joined the United Nations Global Seed Vault Project in February 2009 and agreed to send 12,639 seeds of 15 Taiwan rice, vegetable, cereal and other crops to the global vault for preservation. Taiwan sent to Norway 4,014 portions of Taiwan rice genetic resources in 2009 and 3,260 soybean genetic resources in March 2010. While such Asian nations as China and Japan have not yet taken such an action, the TARI has further protected Taiwan's crop species, well preparing the country for food security in response to the global climate change.