Planning is Good: Noah’s Ark(s), 2.0

Noah was the last of the Old Testament patriarchs who listened to divine instructions for saving humans and animals from a giant flood. Most cultures around the world have a similar story. I think the oldest known one is that found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. There appears to have been an ancient civilization in the Persian gulf that flooded around 8000 years ago, so it’s possible that particular flood story is referring to it. Other major sources of flooding were the melting of the glaciers in different parts of the world at different times. The basic myth is that a man builds a big boat in response to warnings of flood. When it begins, his family and animals take refuge and wait out the storm, emerging afterwards to repopulate the world.

It was the highly detailed saving of the animals that I always found fascinating. Recognizing the need for animals in a post-apocalyptic world, their scale of foresight was impressive. Today, that foresight is found again in molecular databases around the world. One such database is in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago. It opened in 2008, and stores seeds for free. Due to the fact that it is just south of the North Pole, the climate is stable, as is the political situation. This makes storage there very attractive. Funding comes from Bill Gates, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and the Norwegian government, although there is talk of other governments lending a hand too.

While cloning animals for murky purposes has been going on for awhile, reviving old plants for ecological reasons is starting to take root (pun intended).  The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive distributes copies of ancient tree DNA to genebanks, and promotes replanting them for reforestation.  The more genebanks you have, the likelier a particular specimen will survive. Want to start your own biobank? Here is a study that examines good practices for gene collectors.

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