Do We Care About Synbiodiversity? Questions Arising from an Investigation into Whether There are GM Crops in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 29 (5):787-811 (2016)
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The Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides a backup of seed collections from genebanks around the world. It’s unique character has made it iconic in the public imagination as a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for crop plants. Its remote location and strict controls on access have, however, also lent it an air of mystery, swirling with conspiracy theories. In this paper, I first clarify the aims of the Vault, the history of its development and the policies and practices of its current operation. Given concerns around its potential links to the biotechnology industry, I go on to ask whether GM crops are currently stored in the Vault. Presenting several reasons for why GM crops are formally excluded, while indicating the potential for both change and unintentional contamination, I am compelled to question whether GM crops should be excluded. Answering this requires an interrogation of their potential conservation value as modern contributors to crop biodiversity. In exploring this issue, I suggest that there has been surprisingly little discussion of the moral status and conservation value of bio-technological crop plants and indeed, of how we care for all the techno-lifeforms we are currently engaged in co-creating. I suggest that these are becoming important issues as biotechnological techniques and applications begin to rapidly evolve and diversify. Emphasizing the scope for a refreshed interdisciplinary research agenda exploring the interface between biotechnology and biodiversity conservation, I conclude the article by proposing new concepts of synbiodiversity and symbiodiversity to encourage further debate.



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Organisms ≠ Machines.Daniel J. Nicholson - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):669-678.
The concept of intrinsic value and transgenic animals.H. Verhoog - 1992 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 5 (2):147-160.

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