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The seeds lying in the deep freeze of the vault include wild and old varieties, many of which are not in general use anymore. And many don’t exist outside of the seed collections they came from. But the genetic diversity contained in the vault could provide the DNA traits needed to develop new strains for whatever challenges the world or a particular region will face in the future.One of the 200,000 varieties of rice within the vault could have the trait needed to adapt rice to higher temperatures, for example, or to find resistance to a new pest or disease. This is particularly important with the challenges of climate change. “Not too many think about crop diversity as being so fundamentally important, but it is. It is almost as important as water and air,” says Haga. “Seeds generally are the basis for everything. Not only what we eat, but what we wear, nature all about us.”

But as the fighting intensified, they were forced to leave behind their gene bank, one of the world’s most valuable collections of seeds, containing some of the oldest varieties of wheat and barley. ICARDA re-established its headquarters in Morocco and Lebanon, and restarted the gene bank in 2015 using seeds from the Svalbard vault—the first-ever withdrawal there. Woken from their icy slumber, the seeds were planted in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and in Morocco, and their offspring were carefully collected and processed to return to the vault. In late February, ICARDA returned the varieties of seeds it had taken out. “These seeds have come full circle,” Lainoff explains.

There are three vaults leading off from the chamber, but only one is currently in use, and its door is covered in a thick layer of ice, hinting at the subzero temperatures inside. In here, the seeds are stored in vacuum-packed silver packets and test tubes in large boxes that are neatly stacked on floor-to-ceiling shelves. They have very little monetary value, but the boxes potentially hold the keys to the future of global food security.

You don’t need to look far to discover the sacrifices made to keep these kernels of reproduction safe. One of the most historically significant deposits of seeds inside the vault comes from a collection in St. Petersburg’s Vavilov Research Institute, which originates from one of the first collections in the world. During the siege of Leningrad, about a dozen scientists barricaded themselves in the room containing the seeds in order to protect them from hungry citizens and the surrounding German army.

Over the past 50 years, agricultural practices have changed dramatically, with technological advances allowing large-scale crop production. But while crop yields have increased, biodiversity has decreased to the point that now only about 30 crops provide 95% of human food-energy needs. Only 10% of the rice varieties that China used in the 1950s are still used today, for example. The U.S. has lost over 90% of its fruit and vegetable varieties since the 1900s. This monoculture nature of agriculture leaves food supplies more susceptible to threats such as diseases and drought.

Its only neighbor is a similar repository buried away from the dangers of the world: the Arctic World Archive, which aims to preserve data for the world’s governments and private institutions, opened deep in a nearby mine on March 27.

Deep in the bowels of an icy mountain on an island above the Arctic Circle between Norway and the North Pole lies a resource of vital importance for the future of human­kind. It’s not coal, oil or precious minerals, but seeds.

Find rare and unique seeds that thrive in your climate.

As our global climate changes, farmers and gardeners will need to access seeds that are bred to succeed in conditions that may be drastically different from previous years. When you list seeds on the Global Seed Network you help build an independent and diverse seed supply of unique plants and crops adapted to specific climates and conditions. This helps guarantee that each member will be able to find plants that will thrive in his or her production system, be it a small urban garden patch or a small, diversified farm.

Cherry/Grape, Black Cherry

Indeterminate. This sets a large amount of fruit that has similar flavor to...

This is a highly disease resistant variety, resistant to most common foliar...

Very drought tolerant and prolific plant.

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The depositors who will deposit material will do so consistently with relevant national and international law. The Seed Vault will only agree to receive seeds that are shared under the Multilateral System or under Article 15 of the International Treaty or seeds that have originated in the country of the depositor.

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Worldwide, more than 1,700 genebanks hold collections of food crops for safekeeping, yet many of these are vulnerable, exposed not only to natural catastrophes and war, but also to avoidable disasters, such as lack of funding or poor management. Something as mundane as a poorly functioning freezer can ruin an entire collection. And the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur, animal or any form of life.

Permafrost and thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen even without power. The Vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply, offering options for future generations to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth. It will secure millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. It is the final back up.

It was the recognition of the vulnerability of the world’s genebanks that sparked the idea of establishing a global seed vault to serve as a backup storage facility. The purpose of the Vault is to store duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections.