Egyptian genebank looted

by Luigi Guarino on February 1, 2011

I suppose it’s only a small blip in the great scheme of things, but you know what they say: to a hammer everything is a nail. And to a genebank guy everything that happens affects genebanks. In this case, the Egyptian Deserts Gene Bank at Sheikh Zowaid Station in North Sinai, which we are told has been trashed during the current turmoil in Egypt.1 It specializes in desert plants, and has wide international partnerships, including with the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew and the Genetic Resources Policy Initiative. The manager had to abandon the place when its security detail disappeared and an armed gang warned him that they would be coming in the night. Which they indeed did, to devastating effect, getting away with lots of equipment and wrecking the cooling system. The collection is not duplicated in the national genebank in Giza, which apparently has not suffered similar looting.2 The genebank manager called a few people in Cairo before having to abandon the place, including our informant, so the problem is known to the national agricultural research authorities, but there‚Äôs nothing anyone can do at the moment, clearly.

LATER: Nourishing the Planet weighs in with a nice article.

Footnotes:
  1. The photo was taken by Dr Stefano Padulosi of Bioversity International in 2001. []
  2. However, some of the material was duplicated at the Millennium Seed Bank. []

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Eliseu Bettencourt February 1, 2011 at 10:42 am

Very unfortunate! When this kind of thing happens in this particular situation (civil unrest) I wonder if the name “Bank” has anything to do in attracting the attention of the wrong kind of people.
Just a thought!

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ElSayed ElAzazi February 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Dear my professor
Praise be to God did not get one of the employees of the Bank
But we lost most of the devices
But thank God not lost germplasm
Because they were not exposed to the seeds of conservation in the rooms,
i going to gene bank after arrive to egypt from china

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Michiel van Slageren February 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Sad to read after having worked with them for several years. I hope all staff are unhurt and that they will be able to return in due course. What are looters going to do with highly specialist equipment that has no sell-on value whatsoever? Did they want to eat the date and olive collections (there is a date and olive garden behind the building)? Go ahead and eat it! But why then ruin all the rest?
Anyway, I can report that the collections made under our joint work are duplicated at the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK, illustrating the usefulness of this principle for all the wrong reasons. They are safe and not lost for the Egyptian nation.

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ElSayed ElAzazi February 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Dear Michiel van Slageren
I am very sad because I lost most of the devices
But thank God every seed is still as it is and can be repaired, the destruction of adequate financial support
Of friends and was heading the International

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Ehsan Dulloo February 2, 2011 at 2:41 pm

What a blow! I am so sad personally because I have been one of the people who helped design this genebank and trained the staff to collect and manage this unique collection in early 2000′s. Bioversity has been closely associated with the Egyptan Desert Centre and its genebank, which has been recognised as centre of excellence for genebnak management in this region. Now no more!! This again shows the importance for security back up. We can perhaps rebuild the genebank if funds are made available, but will not be able to get back the diversity that has been lost. I am glad that MSB has at least duplicate collections that can be restored when the time is right.

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ElSayed ElAzazi February 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I am very sad because I lost most of the devices
But thank God every seed is still as it is and can be repaired, the destruction of adequate financial support
Of friends and was heading the International

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Mohan February 3, 2011 at 9:02 am

it’s a tragic incident to all conservationists. why in the hell can anyone loot gene bank? praying for the safety of all the staffs there, including my friend Al sayed al azizi.

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ElSayed ElAzazi February 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm

my Dear friend Mohan
i am fine thank you
HO Haa
am very sad because I lost most of the devices
But thank God every seed is still as it is and can be repaired, but my Phd Data Lost in lab. and computer
see you

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Mohamed Amar February 7, 2011 at 7:55 am

Dear Dr.Ehsan
Thank you for your feelings about what happened. Really, you are also shared with us in promoting this place. The criminals destroyed all Laboratory equipment and stole what they could to carry it in our molecular genetics and plant tissue culture lab. .They destroyed 13 years of work. We need several years to return

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Elsayd Nishawy February 7, 2011 at 8:25 am

I felt great sorrow because of this sabotage that Missed a 13-year effort of perseverance for the Advancement of Egypt to the level of developed nations in field of agricultural and biotechnology through this great edifice.Extend my sincere condolences to Prof. Ismaiel AbdElglil Hussien Whose dedicated his life to build this edifice

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