September 26, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘One of the World’s Oldest Science Experiments Comes Up From the Dirt’

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Have you heard or read about other seed storage projects, including perhaps the two mentioned in the article — the doomsday-prevention crop seed vaults and Indigenous food sovereignty efforts? Read the two excerpts below to learn a bit more.

Arks of the Apocalypse,” by Malia Wollan, focuses on Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a storage facility dug into the side of a mountain on an island near the North Pole. Ms. Wollan writes, “We build banks to better understand, but also perhaps to save, our disappearing world. The plan is to study these specimens now but also to deliver them to the future, when scientists will presumably be more advanced than we are, technologically — and hopefully smarter.” The article continues:

The seed vault is perhaps the best-known project in a growing global campaign to cache endangered phenomena for safekeeping. Fortunately — the leak snafu notwithstanding — scientists, governments and even private companies have become quite good over the last decade at these efforts to bank nature. The San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo cryogenically preserves living cell cultures, sperm, eggs and embryos for some 1,000 species in liquid nitrogen. Inside the National Ice Core Laboratory, in Lakewood, Colo., a massive freezer contains roughly 62,000 feet’s worth of rods of ice from rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets in Antarctica, Greenland and North America. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington maintains the world’s largest collection of frozen exotic-animal milk, from mammals large (orcas) and small (critically endangered fruit bats), in order to help researchers figure out how to nourish the most vulnerable members of any species: babies. An international project called Amphibian Ark engages in ex situ conservation by relocating amphibians, the most endangered class of animal, indoors for safekeeping and sperm collection.

In “For the Navajo Nation, a Fight for Better Food Gains New Urgency,” Amelia Nierenberg writes about Summer Brown, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, who moved back to her childhood home in Cornfields, Ariz., only to find it difficult to find healthy food for her family. To address her family’s needs, Ms. Brown collected seeds from Indigenous seed banks and researched Indigenous methods.

Her backyard garden isn’t meant just to replace a trip to the grocery store. Ms. Brown is part of a movement for food sovereignty, a global effort to give people control of their food supply and nutrition. It is a public health endeavor, an economic reclamation, an environmental protest and for many, a spiritual quest. Gardeners aim to grow healthy foods that are connected to their traditions, and to revive old methods of cultivation.

“I want to show the whole Navajo Nation, and even off the reservation, that you can live with the earth and you don’t have to rely so much on the outside to feed yourself,” Ms. Brown said. “We have all this land. We should be able to just go outside and get our food.”

The small gardens and cornfields rising across the Nation (which the Diné call the Dinétah) are attempts to correct legacies of historical wrongs. Once, the Diné (what the Navajo call themselves) were prosperous gardeners, hunters and stewards of the land. Then the United States government colonized the land and displaced the Diné in the mid-1800s, during what is now known as the Long Walk, to an internment camp at Fort Sumner, N.M. Livestock were killed off. Fields were trampled. And some orchards were lost forever.

After reading the two excerpts, choose one article to read in its entirety. Then, respond to these questions:

  • What are three things you learned about the seed storage project?

  • What are two connections you can make between the second seed storage project you read about and the one at Michigan State University?

  • What is one question that you still have about seed storage?

If you have more time, try out one of these experiments related to seed storage or seed germination.

  • Seed Storage Study from
    In this experiment, you will store seeds in different conditions: in the freezer, next to a stove, and at room temperature. Then, after a month, you will try to grow them.

  • Seed Banks Lesson Plan from Kids Gardening
    In this lesson, you will place seeds in a freezer at three-, two- and one-month intervals. Then you will try to germinate the three sets of frozen seeds and one set of seeds that was never frozen.

  • Ask a Biologist: Pocket Seed Experiment from Arizona State University
    In this experiment, you will compare the growth of seeds that were soaked and some that were not soaked, in different conditions, such as in light or darkness.

You can share the results of your experiment in the comments section of the article. How did conducting an experiment related to seeds deepen or change your understanding of the topics explored in the featured article?

About Lesson of the Day

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