The doomsday vaults storing seeds, data and DNA to protect our future

Around the world, highly secure chambers are being built to preserve everything we need to withstand any number of worst-case scenarios

Are we allowed to go in?” I surprise myself with this question, given that I’m staring through the small window of a door into one of six underground vaults, each one essentially a walk-in freezer. The temperature inside is -20C. It is a grey winter day at the Millennium Seed Bank in Wakehurst, Sussex and the maze of featureless corridors and reinforced concrete adds to the 1984-ish austerity of the setting. These vaults are designed to withstand the worst apocalypse we can imagine – be it caused by bombs, radiation, floods or disease.

Dr Elinor Breman, a senior researcher, and my guide for today, briefly hesitates before responding: yes, I can, but only if I sign a waiver and don’t have any heart conditions. This seems fair enough. I sign a declaration, having read the warnings of frostbite and hypothermia, and Breman hands me a protective blue coat. She flicks a switch before we go in. When I look at her quizzically, she casually explains that this is so an alarm goes off if we’re not out in five minutes.

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