Beans at the CIAT gene bank in Colombia, which has just sent its latest consignments of seeds for conservation at the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway. Photo: Neil Palmer/Global Crop Diversity Trust/Creative Commons.
The Doomsday Seed Vault (more properly known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault) is now three years old and is touting its latest deposits of rare, valuable, and climate-resistant seeds. Included in the latest shipments are lima beans that can grow in very dry and in high altitude conditions (which also happen to be on the verge of extinction), cantaloupe that is blight resistant, and the progenitors of antioxidant-rich tomatoes.
Fruit of several tomato lines with high beta-carotene, bred from Solanum galapagense LA0317 by J. Stommel at the USDA-ARS. Photo: C.M. Jones/Global Crop Diversity Trust/Creative Commons.
All told, the third anniversary shipments to the seed vault amount to 40,000 seed and forage samples from 94 countries. These are added to the 600,000 seed varieties already stored underground in the far Arctic north of Norway.
Interestingly, illustrating the long potential life of stored seeds, part of the shipment includes soybeans collected by USDA researchers in China in the 1920s.
Despite the doomsday moniker popularly attached to Svalbard, the world's saved collections of seeds are vulnerable to threats far short of global environmental catastrophe, as the Global Crop Diversity Trust which runs the vault touts:
A vivid example of some of the threats facing genebanks is when unrest in Egypt led to the looting of the Egyptian Desert Gene Bank in North Sinai. At the Desert Gene Bank, home to a prized collection of fruit and medicinal plants, looters stole equipment, destroyed the facility's cooling system, and ruined data that represented more than a decade worth of research.
More on the damage to the Egyptian seed bank via Worldwatch: Genetic Diversity Lost with the Damage of Egypt's Desert's Gene Bank
And on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: The Global Crop Diversity Trust
If you like the photos at the start of this article as much as I do, there's lots more great seed-related photos at Global Crop Diversity Trust's Flickr page.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post listed the number of new seeds shipped to the vault as 3,600. This figure referred just to those arriving from International Center for Tropical Agriculture. The total amount received is closer to 40,000.
More on Seed Saving:
A Community-Run Seed Library - Shouldn't Every Library Loan Seeds? (Video)
Arctic Doomsday Vault Now Has Half Million Samples - Becomes World's Most Diverse Collection of Saved Seeds