Plants as Digital Things: The Global Circulation of Future Breeding Options and Their Storage in Gene Banks

Suzana Alpsancar


Abstract: Seeds have traditionally been collected according to their reproductive cycles, i.e. the time when they lose their potential of becoming a real plant. Therefore, the locations of botanic gardens or seed banks imply the vicinity of agricultural land. This article exemplifies the transformation of plant collections into gene and data banks by investigating the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) in Norway and the German Genebank for Fruit Crops (DGO). It shows that international efforts to safeguard biodiversity by intertwining them with bioinformatics infrastructure transform seeds and other plant genetic material into digitalized objects. The almost virtual genetic material, now stored without the neighborhood of acres or gardens, is, at the same time, seen as “options” for new high-tech plants, which might be transplanted to a future territory. Consequently, plant varieties are circulating around the globe in form of genetic material and data. The article shows that the digitalization induces a specific distinction between the material and the digital flows of plants.

Keywords: gene bank; digital plant; digitalization; plant collections; svalbard global seed vault.

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