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Conflict in Syria Shuts Down the Aleppo Seed Vault

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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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Learn to Spot the Sneaky Psychological Tricks Restaurants Use
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While dining out, you may have noticed (but perhaps didn’t question) some unusual features—like prices missing dollar signs, or burgers served on plates that could accommodate a baby cow.

These aren’t just arbitrary culinary decisions, as the SciShow’s Hank Green explains in the video below. Restaurants use all kinds of psychological tricks to make you spend more money, ranging from eliminating currency symbols (this makes you think less about how much things cost) to plating meals on oversize dinnerware (it makes you eat more). As for the mouthwatering language used to describe food—that burger listed as a "delectable chargrilled extravagance," for example—studies show that these types of write-ups can increase sales by up to 27 percent.

Learn more psychological tricks used by restaurants (and how to avoid falling for them) by watching the video below. (Or, read our additional coverage on the subject.)

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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