Genebanks work to collect, store and conserve the biological diversity of plants and animals. Origins of genebanks go back to the early 1900s when pioneer scientists such as Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov took steps to address a decline in agricultural diversity by rescuing, storing and researching crop diversity. As much as three quarters of total crop diversity was lost as a result in the process of modernization of agriculture which put simply increased the output of food production but reduced variation of crops.
The work of genebanks concentrates on partly offsetting this decrease in biological diversity brought about among others by modernization and globalization of agriculture. By storing plants mostly as seeds out of their natural environment, known as ex-situ conservation scientists have managed to create repositories for a significant part of the planet’s genetic resources. Held in freezing conditions at low humidity genebanks provide a means for extending the viability of seeds for periods of up to 20 years or sometimes longer. Conservation of plants in genebanks involves several types of work. Once seed samples have been identified in nature and collected they are cleaned, catalogued, treated to reduce humidity, stored under low temperatures, rejuvenated when aged, tested for their germination, investigated for their genetic traits and provided upon request to researchers to promote their use in science.
Today there are about 1750 national and regional genebanks worldwide holding back ups of the planets biological diversity. Svalbard Global Seed Vault established in 2008 by Norway serves as the largest repository for world collections providing an overall security backup of crop diversity at a global level.