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International Back-Up Plan Held in Norwegian Vault

Description of this image follows
An illuminated work of art on the face of the entryway of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault
lights up the Norwegian arctic sky. (Photo: Mari Tefre / Svalbard Global Seed Vault)

Deep in the mountains of the northern Norwegian islands, there lies a vault that holds thousands of seeds from all over the world.

Established in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on the island of Spitsbergen, about 1,300 km from the North Pole. This giant, secure vault, stores duplicates of seed collections from around the globe right in the permafrost, safeguarding them from permanent loss. If a particular crop variety is lost due to a natural disaster, the duplicate seeds from the vault could be used to re-establish the crop and help preserve genetic diversity of the world's crops for future generations.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault stores some duplicates from Canada's own Plant Gene Resources of Canada (PGRC) which is the national seed genebank located at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Saskatoon Research Centre. PGRC maintains a collection of more than 114,000 different samples (or accessions) of cultivated plant species and their wild relatives. As an active national genebank that has the capacity to regenerate, assess, acquire and distribute plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, PGRC is a Canadian contribution to ensuring global food security, and economic and ecological sustainability of agriculture. Not only are famous Canadian wheat cultivars such as 'Red Fife' and 'Marquis' preserved, but also local varieties important to regions across Canada.

Depositing a small back-up sample (between 300 to 500 seeds) of Canadian crops at Svalbard is a security measure the PGRC is happy to take. The diversity of food crops is under constant pressure and the consequence of not having backups could be an irreversible loss of the opportunity to grow crops adapted to climate change, new plant diseases, and the needs of an expanding population. Priority is given to crop groups that are unique to PGRC from a world-wide perspective and the crop groups most important to Canada.

In February of 2013, PGRC sent the fourth shipment of fresh seeds to Svalbard, bringing their total number of samples backed up there to about 26,000. That latest shipment of about 5,000 samples includes many well-known crops such as barley, corn, tomato, wheat, pea, soy, oats, flax, canary seed, faba bean, alfalfa, buckwheat and orchard grass. The 23 boxes of seed envelopes also included wild relatives or native Canadian species, such as wild oat or white prairie clover, that could be used in breeding or have potential as a crop.

Successful shipping and storing of the samples depends on close cooperation between PGRC, the Global Crop Diversity Trust located in Bonn (Germany), and the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre located in southern Sweden, which makes this a truly international effort.

In Saskatoon, PGRC stores the base and working collections of the seeds which are available to research and plant breeders nationally and internationally. Besides the seeds, PGRC provides access to information about the seed material via AAFC's website, and scientific publications.

For more information, or to set up an interview:

Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Ottawa, Ontario"

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