Conflict in Syria Shuts Down the Aleppo Seed Vault

Seeds are stored at a drying room of a German seed bank in 2015. Image Credit: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Destruction in Syria has reached into the global food supply. The seed vault in Aleppo—a crucial resource for scientists and the future of our planet—has been forced to shut down by the chaos and conflict of the civil war. Scientists are now busy readying sister sites in Lebanon and Morocco in order to keep the seeds accessible and safe.

The first seed banks were founded in the 1980s with the goal of preserving our planet’s biodiversity, shoring up agricultural seed reserves, and creating a genetic backup in the event of food crop shortages. The mother of them all is the Global Seed Vault (also known as the Doomsday Vault) in Svalbard, which holds more than 200 million seeds from around the world in a former coal mine on an island in the Arctic.

Other centers are more locally focused. The seed bank in Aleppo is run by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which aims to preserve the DNA of plants from the driest parts of the world. The vault houses over 141,000 seeds representing 700-plus species, including the wild ancestors of modern staple crops like wheat, barley, and lentils.

Unlike the Doomsday Vault, which is, well, a vault, the seed bank in Aleppo was designed for both deposits and withdrawals. Its contents represent a vital resource to scientists, plant breeders, and farmers, who all need to be able to draw upon the samples within for their work.

But lately, that’s been just about impossible to do. Most of the staff was forced to leave in 2012. The most recent inspection of the facilities found the vault itself intact, but the work of managing the bank cannot go on.

Recognizing the need for a new plan, ICARDA made the world’s first withdrawal from the Doomsday Vault last year. The group withdrew samples of some of the same plants stored within the Aleppo bank and sent them to nearby sites in Rabat, Morocco and Terbol, Lebanon. The idea is to duplicate the Aleppo bank’s contents as closely as possible—to create a backup of the backup.

The seeds from Svalbard were used to start new lineages at both sites, and soon the originals will be returned to the vault.

Ahmed Amri is head of genetic resources at the ICARDA research station in Rabat. “The situation in Syria did not allow us to continue our core activities,” he told Nature. “I’m happy that we have established ourselves back to normal.”

But the seed banks’ troubles are far from over. Like so many scientific enterprises, ICARDA is threatened by a lack of funding. The sister sites' combined capacity maxes out at 135,000 seeds. And Lebanon is not exactly the safest place these days, either.

Amri brushes the latter concern aside. “It’s gone through 20 years of fighting, and we never had any problems,” he said.

Still, he’s sorry to leave Syria for Terbol. “We enjoyed our lives in Aleppo. It was one of the nicest places to live—wonderful people and a good environment for research at ICARDA.”

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Bad Moods Might Make You More Productive

Being in a bad mood at work might not be such a bad thing. New research shows that foul moods can lead to better executive function—the mental processing that handles skills like focus, self-control, creative thinking, mental flexibility, and working memory. But the benefit might hinge on how you go through emotions.

As part of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, a pair of psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Canada subjected more than 90 undergraduate students to a battery of tests designed to measure their working memory and inhibition control, two areas of executive function. They also gave the students several questionnaires designed to measure their emotional reactivity and mood over the previous week.

They found that some people who were in slightly bad moods performed significantly better on the working memory and inhibition tasks, but the benefit depended on how the person experienced emotion. Specifically, being in a bit of a bad mood seemed to boost the performance of participants with high emotional reactivity, meaning that they’re sensitive, have intense reactions to situations, and hold on to their feelings for a long time. People with low emotional reactivity performed worse on the tasks when in a bad mood, though.

“Our results show that there are some people for whom a bad mood may actually hone the kind of thinking skills that are important for everyday life,” one of the study’s co-authors, psychology professor Tara McAuley, said in a press statement. Why people with bigger emotional responses experience this boost but people with less-intense emotions don’t is an open question. One hypothesis is that people who have high emotional reactivity are already used to experiencing intense emotions, so they aren’t as fazed by their bad moods. However, more research is necessary to tease out those factors.

[h/t Big Think]

7 Reasons Why You Should Let Your Kid Get Bored This Summer

No matter how excited kids are for summer break, after a few weeks without school, they can start to feel a little bored. But as a parent, you shouldn't drive yourself crazy scheduling playdates, lessons, and other organized activities for your restless progeny. Instead, turn off the iPad, put down the camp brochure, and let them sit around the house moaning “I'm bored”—it can be good for them.


Research suggests the experience of boredom can lead to greater creativity because it allows minds to wander. In one 2014 study, researchers asked a group of participants to undertake boring activities like copying down telephone numbers from a directory. Then, they were tested for creativity—they had to come up with as many uses for a pair of foam cups as they could think of. The participants who had endured the boring tasks ended up thinking up more uses for the cups than those who hadn't. Boredom, the researchers wrote, "can sometimes be a force for good."

This isn't an entirely new idea. Another study conducted in Canada in the 1980s provides further evidence that boredom isn't always a bad thing: It found that kids who lived in towns with no televisions scored higher on imagination-related tests than kids who had TVs. Imagine what disconnecting from all of the screens available now could do for a kid's creativity.


Boredom can force kids to generate their own ideas about what they'd like to do—and what's feasible—then direct their own activities independently. "If parents spend all their time filling up their child's spare time, then the child's never going to learn to do this for themselves," Lyn Fry, a child psychologist, told Quartz in 2016. "Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant."


In The Boredom Solution: Understanding and Dealing with Boredom, teacher and author Linda Deal advises that it's important to let kids learn to deal with their boredom themselves because it helps them learn to make decisions about how to use their free time. They need to learn to "see the problem of boredom as one within their control," she writes, which can help them come up with constructive ways to solve it rather than simply getting hopeless or angry about it, as kids sometimes do in situations they don't have control over. Kids learn that boredom isn't an insurmountable obstacle.


In a 2012 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers sought to define what, exactly, boredom is. "At the heart of it is our desire to engage with the world or some other mental activity, and that takes attention," co-author Mark Fenske, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, explained at the time. "When we cannot do this—that seems to be what leads to frustration and the aversive state we call 'boredom.'" When kids (and adults) are bored, especially with activities that were once engaging, they're motivated to try new things.


According to a pair of psychologists from Texas A&M University, boredom might have a social role. They argue that it "expresses to others that a person is seeking change and stimulation, potentially prompting others to respond by assisting in this pursuit." Being bored can push kids to go out and be more social, and have fun through activities. When there's not much to do, hanging out with the new kid down the block (or even your little brother) suddenly seems a lot more appealing.


Both at school and at home, kids are often required to participate in a range of activities. Having the time and space to do nothing can help kids figure out what they actually like to do. "Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves," psychologist Vanessa Lapointe writes at the Huffington Post. This downtime allows kids to direct their own activities without adult input. Pressed to come up with their own entertainment, they might discover a love of writing plays, baking cookies, biking, crafting, or perfecting their jump shot.


According to one 2011 study, boredom forced people to reflect on meaning in their lives, prompting them to seek out meaningful activities like donating blood. While the study only examined adults, who may be more inclined to search for purpose, boredom can nonetheless push kids to undertake activities they might otherwise find unappealing—whether that means helping out with the dishes or agreeing to go volunteer for the day—or could even inspire them to make the world a better place.


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