Even though the results of this experiments now guides us in effectively storing seeds in the Svalbard Doomsday Vault, is Dr. Fritz Went’s chemically dehydrated seeds experiment now the longest ongoing botanical experiment ever?
By: Ringo Bones
This botanical experiment started back in 1947 in order to find out how long humanity can store seeds slated for future germination in a farming field in the far-off future and was intended to last for 300 years. But does the chemically dehydrated seed experiment that was started by Dr. Fritz Went still the current holder for the longest ongoing botanical experiment ever?
Ordinarily, seeds can be stored for only one or two years before humidity makes them dissipate their stored energy and they will no longer germinate. Those seeds with firm, hard coats retain their viability longest and most seeds keep best when stored in dry storage at low temperatures like that in the current Svalbard Doomsday Vault seed repository. Under such favorable conditions, seeds of common farm and garden plants have lasted from 10 to 25 years. Would these seeds last even longer if kept completely dry?
Seeking to find out the answer, Dr. Fritz Went launched an experiment back in 1947 which is designed to continue for more than 300 years. Seeds of 120 California wild plants were chemically dehydrated in a vacuum and then the seeds of each species were divided among 20 vacuum-sealed tubes and stored in dated jars that stated their date of germination, some as far as into 2307 A.D. Since the start of the experiment, seeds from the four sets of tubes have been germinated. The results: so far the test seeds have proved on average to be viable after 10 years’ storage as they were immediately after drying.
During the experiment, Dr. Went shelves 20 identical sets of seeds according to date of future use. For each tube, 60 to 100 seeds will be remoistened at a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius to start germination. Some seeds from each tube will be raised for future comparison of the revived plants with their wild descendents. And such procedure invented in 1947 would then be applied to the seeds that are stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault - also known to "pessimists" as the Doomsday Vault - located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole.