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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 17:02 GMT
'Doomsday' seeds arrive in Norway
By Mark Kinver
Science and nature reporter, BBC News

Seeds destined for the 'doomsday' vault (Image: IITA)
The first seeds to arrive in Norway had travelled from Nigeria
The first consignment of seeds bound for the "doomsday vault" on Svalbard has arrived in Norway.

Twenty-one boxes containing 7,000 seed samples from 36 African nations were sent by the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

The final leg of the journey will take the seeds to the remote Arctic Island.

The vault is intended to act as insurance so that food production can be restarted anywhere on Earth after a regional or global catastrophe.

Built deep inside a mountain, the structure will eventually house a vast collection of seeds; safeguarding world crops against possible future disasters including nuclear wars and dangerous climate change.

The temperature inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will drop to -18C (0F) in order to preserve the seeds.

The Norwegian government is paying the $9m (4.5m) construction costs of the vault, which will have enough space to house 4.5 million seed samples.

Cross-section of the 'doomsday' seed vault (Image: BBC)

The seeds, weighing 330kg (730lb), are made up of varieties of domesticated and wild cowpea, maize, soybean and bambara groundnut.

"The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture genebank houses the world's largest collection of cowpeas, with over 15,000 unique varieties from 88 countries around the world," said Dr Dominique Dumet, the institute's genebank manager.

During January, other national seed banks supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) began packing and shipping duplicate collections that will be stored at Svalbard.

These included collections from Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines and Syria.

Collectively, CGIAR centres maintain 600,000 plant varieties in crop genebanks in a global effort to conserve agricultural biodiversity.

The collection and maintenance of the seeds is being co-ordinated by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which has responsibility of ensuring the "conservation of crop diversity in perpetuity".

Map showing location of Svalbard (Image: BBC)

"The seed vault is the perfect place for keeping seeds safe for centuries," said Cary Fowler, the Trust's executive director.

"At these temperatures, seeds for important crops like wheat, barley and peas can last for up to 1,000 years."

The seed vault has been built 120m (390ft) inside a mountain on Spitsbergen, one of four islands that make up Svalbard.

The site, roughly 1,000km (600 miles) north of mainland Norway, was chosen as the location for the vault because it was very remote and it also offered the level of stability required for the long-term project.

The vault is scheduled to be formally opened on 26 February.



SEE ALSO
Doomsday vault begins deep freeze
16 Nov 07 |  Science/Nature
'Doomsday' vault design unveiled
09 Feb 07 |  Science/Nature
'Doomsday' seed bank to be built
12 Jan 06 |  Science/Nature
Sowing the seeds of uncertainty
07 Nov 07 |  Science/Nature
World 'not saving wild plants'
06 Oct 03 |  Science/Nature
World 'losing battle against extinctions'
21 May 03 |  Science/Nature

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