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Launch of Svalbard’s 100-Year Seed Experiment

Safeguarding the foundation of our food system for future generations.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway (27 August 2020) – A unique 100-year experiment launches today at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The experiment, the first of its kind, is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food and involves partners from all over the world. It will shed light on the longevity of seeds of 13 globally important crops. 

Results will be published throughout the course of the project, providing valuable knowledge that will help ensure optimal seed conservation in the Seed Vault and indeed genebanks in general. As recognized by SDG 2.5, this is a key step in safeguarding the foundation of our food system for future generations, and ensuring food and nutritional security.

“The experiment is one of a kind,” says Åsmund Asdal, Seed Vault Coordinator at NordGen. “It will provide future generations with knowledge of how quickly, or slowly, seeds die, and therefore how often they need to be regenerated.”

The first experimental seed samples, from the genebank at IPK Gatersleben in Germany, will be brought today to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. They consist of barley, pea, wheat and lettuce. Over the next 2-3 years, seeds from nine additional crops will be sent to Svalbard by genebanks in Thailand, India, Portugal, Brazil and Sweden for the study. These seeds will be tested in 2030, and every decade thereafter, until 2120. 

Seeds are stored in the Seed Vault at a temperature of –18°C and each sample is sealed in a small packet of 400 seeds. 

So how long can seeds stay alive?

This experiment seeks to answer that question and inform future best practices for seed regeneration, one of the most important processes in a genebank. 

Seed longevity is one of the core concerns of long-term seed conservation. Well dried and frozen seeds from many important food crops are generally thought to be able to stay alive for a very long time: centuries, perhaps even a thousand years in some cases. But these estimates mainly come from extrapolation from what are called “rapid ageing” experiments.  Actual information on how long seeds can maintain their germination ability during storage under optimal conditions is needed, to validate the theory.

Genebanks test seeds in their collections regularly, to be able to regenerate seeds in time and keep the genetic resources viable and available for research and plant breeding. If genebank technicians can identify seeds that are no longer sufficiently viable in time, they can regenerate the seeds and keep their collections safe. 

“The most extraordinary aspect of this project is that it will go on for 100 years,” says Asdal about what most excites him about the project. “It is unique in that we will investigate the longevity of these seeds in real time. We will probably already see in 20-30 years differences between varieties and learn more about the importance of initial seed quality for long-term conservation.”

 The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a backup facility for the world’s crop diversity. Since its opening in 2008, genebanks all over the world have brought seed samples of the world’s most important food crops for permanent safeguarding to the Seed Vault. In February 2020, the Seed Vault crossed the threshold of 1 million seed samples from 87 different institutes and organizations. 

Project contact:

Åsmund Asdal
Seed Vault Coordinator, NordGen
+47 91 36 51 66
asmund.asdal@nordgen.org 

The Partners: 

The Crops:

Gallery

(Statistics from Genesys)


Svalbard Global Seed Vault
The Seed Vault is the largest safety backup of the world’s crop diversity. Norway established and owns the Seed Vault. It is managed and operated in a partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NordGen) and the international organization Crop Trust.  https://seedvault.nordgen.org/

The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food
The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food is the legal and administrative body of the Seed Vault and has the overall responsibility for its management, security and funding. www.regjeringen.no

NordGen
NordGen manages and operates the seed deposits in partnership with the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Crop Trust. NordGen is the focal point for depositors, coordinates seed deposits and operates a publicly accessible online database of the deposited seeds.www.nordgen.org

Crop Trust
The Crop Trust works to establish an efficient global system of crop conservation, with the Seed Vault providing the last level of safety duplication of the world’s genebanks. The Crop Trust provides financial support to select gene banks in developing countries for shipment of seeds to the Seed Vault. www.croptrust.org

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