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Securing seeds: CIMMYT to ship second deposit to global seed vault

January 19, 2009

Nearly a year after the icy Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened its doors for seed storage, CIMMYT scientists have selected and prepared their second Svalbard-bound shipment of wheat and maize seeds, set to go in early February.

The Svalbard Vault, located on an island 620 miles from the North Pole, was built by the Norwegian government with support from the Global Crop Diversity Trust as a secure storage facility for seed banks to hold duplicate copies of their collections. The vault is capable of holding 4.5 million seed samples, which on average contain 500 seeds each. The idea is that if a disaster occurs—be it natural, financial, or governmental—seed collections stored in Svalbard’s vault will remain unaffected and available to replace any losses.

Last year, CIMMYT sent 10,000 seed collections of maize and 47,000 of wheat—representing around a third of the center’s entire collection of crop genetic resources. The center’s second deposit will consist of nearly 22,000 wheat seed samples and 2,000 of maize. According to Svalbard Vault’s website, there are currently approximately 6.5 million seed samples stored in seed banks worldwide; an estimated 1-2 million of these are distinct. Unlike banks, the Svalbard Vault holds collections from multiple facilities—all of which retain ownership of their deposits—and will be accessed only if the original samples are disturbed.