A FUTURE-FOCUSED 10 FOR VALENTINE’S DAY: Svalbard seed vault gets 20,000+ samples, including new and rare species, from 10 countries to celebrate 14th birthday on Feb. 14

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Photo courtesy of the Global Crop Diversity Trust

As Valentine’s Day offerings go it was an eclectic bouquet, with the more than 20,000 seed samples ranging from rare Alpine-grown wheat from the 1920s to a “re-deposit” of the seeds a war-torn region needed when its crop facilities were destroyed.

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A Pole Position worker unloads seeds outside the entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on Monday while being filmed by a camera person. The deposits that take place three time annually – when not interrupted by events such as the COVID-19 – pandemic, are popular media events, even though entrance to the vault is now limited to facility officials. Photo courtesy of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

It wasn’t the biggest, most VIP-attended or in any other way especially notable deposit on Monday at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as the world’s largest gene bank nears its 14th birthday. But vault overseers and depositors representing 10 gene banks from around the world found bountiful cause to celebrate the occasion that saw both new varieties of seeds deposited as well as a restocking of seeds by the first entity to make a “withdrawal” from what’s promoted as the world’s ultimate backup facility for global crops.

“I know how much hard work and dedication there is behind a deposit of seeds to the seed vault,” Lykke Steffensen, executive director at NordGen, the administrative overseers of the vault. “Therefore, all deposits, even the smallest ones, have our full attention from first contact until the boxes are resting on the shelves in the seed vault. Meeting gene bank colleagues at the seed vault is always a day of happiness and celebrations. A day to remember for all of us.”

The Svalbard seed vault now hosts more than 1.1 million seed samples of nearly 6,000 plant species from 89 gene banks around the world, or slightly more than one-third of its designed capacity. Monday’s deposits included collections from Australia, Germany, Morocco, New Zealand, the Nordic countries, Romania, Slovakia, Sudan and Uganda.

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A representative of the Research Institute of Plant Production Piestany in Slovakia stacks seeds from the facility that are being deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on Monday. Photo courtesy of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Vault officials highlighted new and rare seeds among the arrivals, including wheat samples from Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Research that were collected in the Austrian Alpine region in the 1920s, making them one of the oldest collections in the Svalbard vault.

The largest deposit Monday, totalling 6,336 seed samples, was made by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) from its gene bank in Morocco. It was the first entity to withdraw seeds in 2015, 2017 and 2019 to reestablish gene banks affected by the war in Syria, but the re-deposit will bring its total collection to more than 100,000 seed samples, close to what it was before the withdrawals.

“The ICARDA story demonstrates perfectly the role and function of the seed vault,” said Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, Norway’s Minister of International Development. “By safeguarding duplicates of these invaluable collections the seed vault offers an insurance policy for our common future.”