Scientists add 50,000 seeds to doomsday-proof vault in Norway

Superman doesn't live here but it's still pretty important.
Picture: Heiko Junge/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

A frozen tundra might be the worst place in the world to grow crops. But that did not prevent people from bringing almost 50,000 seeds of berries, lentils, wheat, barley and other food staples to the Arctic Circle this week.

The seeds will not be sprinkled across frozen farmlands. Rather, they will be saved indefinitely in a international seed vault on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.

The vault was made to protect the world’s food sources from any assortment of doomsday scenarios: nuclear war, climate change, natural disasters or even an asteroid strike.

This week’s seed deposition comprises samples from seed collections in Benin, India, Pakistan, Morocco, the Netherlands, Belarus, the U.K., Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Addition to the United States of America and Mexico, Crop Trust announced on Wednesday.

Marie Haga, executive director of Crop Trust, scans boxes of ICARDA’s seeds in the Longyearbyen airport.

Picture: Andrea Gros, ICARDA

Crop Trust is the charity company helping to fund and manage the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which sits between mainland Norway and the North Pole and can be operated by the former authorities.

With the latest shipment, the seed vault now holds almost 931,000 seed samples of just about every known harvest in the world. The vault still has lots of space left, with a complete capability for 4.5 million samples.

“Collective efforts to conserve crop diversity and generate a global food supply for tomorrow continue to be strong,” Marie Haga, executive director of the Crop Trust, said Wednesday in a media release.

“Crop diversity is a fundamental foundation for the ending of hunger,” she added.

Founded in 2008, the Svalbard vault is intended to last 1,000 decades. It also acts as an insurer for additional seed sets by holding replicate samples, which owners may withdraw as required.

This recently occurred with a major gene-bank in Syria.

The International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), formerly situated in Aleppo, is employed to develop drought- and – heat-resistant crops. However, the tragic, protracted Syrian civil war forced researchers to relocate Morocco and Lebanon.

ICARDA was storing some of its seed stocks sourced from around the Fertile Crescent from the Arctic vault. In 2015, the group started withdrawing those samples in order that they could start planting seeds in their new areas, away from the fighting in Syria.

Their efforts have been so successful that researchers are returning a portion of their seed trials to Svalbard for safekeeping.

“We are demonstrating today which we are able to rely on our gene-banks and their security duplications, despite adverse circumstances, so we are able to get one step closer to some food-secure world,” Aly Abousabba, director general of ICARDA, stated in the press release.

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