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The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will hold seeds for 100 years to study the length of their shelf life

Over the next 2-3 years, gene banks in Thailand, India, Portugal, Brazil and Sweden will send seeds of crops to Svalbard for study.


Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

Recently, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault launched a unique experiment that will last 100 years. The experiment, the first of its kind, is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food and involves partners from around the world. It will shed light on the longevity of the seeds of 13 crops of global importance. The results will be published throughout the project, providing valuable knowledge that will help ensure optimal seed conservation in the Seed Vault and indeed genebanks in general. As recognized by the Sustainable Development Goals 2.5, this is a key step in safeguarding the foundation of our food system for future generations and ensuring food and nutrition security.

"The experiment is unique," says Åsmund Asdal, Seed Vault coordinator at NordGen. "It will provide future generations with the knowledge of how quickly or how slowly seeds die and, therefore, how often they must be regenerated."

The first samples of experimental seeds, from the IPK Gatersleben germplasm bank in Germany, were brought to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in late August. They are made up of barley, peas, wheat, and lettuce. Over the next 2-3 years, gene banks in Thailand, India, Portugal, Brazil and Sweden will send seeds of nine additional crops to Svalbard for study. These seeds will be tested in 2030, and every decade thereafter, until 2120.

The seeds are stored in the seed vault at –18 ° C and each sample is sealed in a small package of 400 seeds.

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 germplasm bank.

Seed longevity is one of the main long-term seed preservation concerns. It is generally believed that the well-dried and frozen seeds of many important food crops can remain alive for a long time: centuries, perhaps even a thousand years in some cases. But these estimates come mainly from extrapolation of what is called "rapid aging" experiments. Real information on how long seeds can maintain their germination capacity during storage under optimal conditions is needed to validate the theory.

Germplasm banks analyze the seeds in their collections regularly to be able to regenerate them on time and to keep genetic resources viable and available for research and breeding. If germplasm bank technicians can identify seeds that are no longer viable enough in time, they can regenerate the seeds and keep their collections safe.

“The most extraordinary aspect of this project is that it will last 100 years,” says Asdal of what he is most excited about about the project. “It is unique because we will investigate the longevity of these seeds in real time. We will probably see differences between varieties in 20-30 years and we will 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 opening in 2008, genebanks around the world have brought seed samples from the world's most important food crops for permanent protection to the seed vault. In February 2020, the Seed Vault crossed the threshold of 1 million seed samples from 87 different institutes and organizations.

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