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Thousands of new samples sealed in Svalbard seed vault

Posted: 16 October 2017 | | No comments yet

To mark World Food Day, the Crop Trust supported the deposit of 4,335 samples to be squirrelled away deep inside a snow-covered mountain. 

Seed vault

FROZEN NORTH: The samples are hidden in one of the northernmost inhabited reaches of the world

Among the seeds sent to safeguard the future of life on our planet, the wind-resistant Bermuda bean has been included. The species is endangered and currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) watch list.

Plant breeders can use the robust traits of the wild bean to develop crops that are more resistant to extreme weather events associated with increased climate change.

The bean samples are being deposited at Svalbard for safekeeping by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, one of 11 CGIAR genebanks supported by the Crop Trust. The Bermuda bean was originally collected by the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Botanical Gardens and its partners.

While it is almost extinct in Bermuda, former CIAT Genebank Manager, Daniel Debouck and his team have successfully multiplied the seed at CIAT (going from just 15 seeds sent from Kew to now over 6,000 seeds) so that the species is conserved and available for future breeding and research.

Today’s seed samples came from three international genebanks located in Colombia and Peru, as well as the genebank for the Nordic region. Other deposits include varieties of wheat, barley, beans, potato, millet and sorghum.

Luis Guillermo Santos Meléndez, Seed Conservation and Viability Lab Coordinator at CIAT, said: “Sending seeds like the Bermuda bean to the Svalbard Gobal Seed Vault is like uploading your files to the cloud. It gives us peace of mind that even if disaster strikes, the robust genetic basis of beans and tropical forages can be recovered. With this deposit, CIAT now has 92 per cent of its seed accessions backed up at the seed vault.”

Speaking for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust said: “Our mission at the Crop Trust is to safeguard crop diversity, forever. This deposit of seeds like the wind-resistant Bermuda bean is one step towards fulfilling this mission. The genebanks we help manage are key to making biodiversity available to farmers and breeders around the world, ensuring our food is plentiful, affordable and nutritious for the future.

“The nations that have deposited to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault today have clearly shown their commitment to Target 2.5 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to maintain agricultural genetic diversity.”

With increasing evidence of extreme weather events and the number of natural disasters quadrupling globally since 1970 to around 400 a year, dedicated long-term storage facilities such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are playing a key role in protecting biodiversity. With this deposit, the vault now stores 891,151 crop samples from nearly every country in the world.

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