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Take a Look Inside the Latest Svalbard Global Seed Vault Deposit

15 February 2022

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened its doors for the first seed deposit of 2022 this week.

10 genebanks from around the world deposited 39 boxes containing 20,443 seed samples, bringing the Seed Vault’s total seed count to 1,145,862. Genebanks from Australia, Germany, Morocco, New Zealand, Nordic countries, Romania, Slovakia, Sudan and Uganda participated.

 

 

“By safeguarding duplicates of invaluable seed collections, the Seed Vault is an insurance policy for seed collections around the world,” said Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Crop Trust. “And in depositing, these countries and collectors are supplying humanity with the building blocks of our future food supply.” 

 

 

The largest deposit came from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), with 6,336 seed samples. This brings their total holding in the Seed Vault to more than 100,000 seed samples, close to what it was before they retrieved seeds from the Seed Vault in 2015, 2017 and 2019 to rebuild the collection that was lost due to the Syrian Civil War.

“We are delighted to be making this fresh deposit to the Seed Vault,” said Athanasios Tsivelikas, who manages the ICARDA collections in Morocco. “It is the product of a lot of hard work over the past few years, which started with us setting up the new active collections in Lebanon and Morocco. Without the Seed Vault, we would have lost all the diversity the ICARDA genebank held and shared from its former location in Syria.”

 

Seeds Boxes in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Some of the 39 total boxes containing seeds from Germany and Morocco waiting to be brought into the Vault chambers for storage. Photo: LM Salazar/Crop Trust

 

NEW PLANT SPECIES FIND A HOME IN THE SEED VAULT

The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Germany and the Australian Pastures Genebank (APG) deposited 150 species that were not previously represented in the Seed Vault. 

Among them are wild relatives of key crops that were collected as part of the Crop Trust-led Crop Wild Relatives Project. This 11-year project, funded by the Government of Norway, collected and conserved more than 4,500 seed samples of some 320 crop wild relative species in genebanks around the world and recently ended in 2021.

“Our shipment includes more than 200 seed samples directly related to the Crop Wild Relatives Project,” says Alan Humphries, curator of the APG. “But including new species among our deposit is not unusual for us – with 2,600 species in the collection we are one of the most diverse genebanks in the world.”

 

MORE THAN 1,500 METERS ABOVE THE SEA

2022 is the United Nations’ International Year of Mountain Development, and this is well reflected among the seed samples deposited.

“All of our seed samples originate from Slovakia, and most of them are from mountainous areas,” said Rene Hauptvogel, a researcher from the Research Institute of Plant Production Piestany in Slovakia. “The collection covers cereals, oilseeds, pseudocereals and legumes, both landraces and modern varieties.” 

 

The deposit from NordGen, the genebank of Nordic countries, also contained some interesting plants from mountainous areas, including a Norwegian landrace of rye introduced from Sweden in the 16th century that was previously grown for ‘slash-and-burn’ agriculture in eastern and southern Norway and rescued just before it disappeared. 

There was also a unique collection of common wheat collected in the Austrian alpine region in the 1920s which IPK will be depositing.

 

“We are delighted to be placing this alpine wheat collection in the safe-keeping of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” said Andreas Börner, head of the IPK genebank. “It is one of our oldest collections, and it is especially appropriate to be placing it in the Seed Vault this year, the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development.”

 

The IPK deposit also includes barley and wheat seed samples from Nepal. “These materials are all well adapted to conditions at high elevations, with short growing seasons and windy conditions,” said Börner, adding, “and they will be invaluable to breeding programs working in such areas.”

 

 

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is established and owned by Norway and operated in a partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, NordGen (the Nordic countries’ genebank) and the Crop Trust. 

About NordGen

NordGen manages and operates the seed deposits in partnership with the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Crop Trust. NordGen is the focal point for depositors, coordinates seed deposits and operates a publicly accessible online database of the deposited seeds. See www.nordgen.org.

About the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food

The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food is the legal and administrative body of the Seed Vault and has the overall responsibility for its management, security and funding. See www.regjeringen.no.

About the Crop Trust

The Global Crop Diversity Trust, known as the Crop Trust, is an international organization that aims to conserve and use plant genetic resources. It supports genebanks, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and proactive pre-breeding efforts around the world. The Crop Trust is recognized as an essential component of the funding strategy of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. For more information, see www.croptrust.org.

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