Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) last week sent 42,627 samples of seeds from different types of rice in its collection to the Svalbard Global Seed vault in Norway to help secure the world’s rice diversity.

The black box dubbed “Doomsday Vault” containing the rice seeds traveled to the mountains of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, some 1,200 kilometers from the North Pole, said Dr. Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, head of IRRI’s International Rice Genebank (IRG).

Dr. Hamilton said that deep inside Svalbard’s icy mountains, the Vault houses all of the world’s important crop seeds that may be humanity’s ultimate insurance in food security in the event of a major regional or global crisis.

He said the rice collection that left IRRI is the Institute’s second deposit to the Vault. The first deposit of 70,180 rice samples was made during the inauguration of the Vault in February 2008 – the largest shipment for the Vault’s opening, he added.

Dr. Hamilton said that after this second deposit, IRRI now has the largest number of samples of a single crop and its wild relatives, coming from the largest number of countries stored in Svalbard.

The precious cargo traveled for four days to Norway, into the Svalbard permafrost that houses the Vault. “If ideal conditions of temperature and storage are followed inside the Vault, seeds can be stored for hundreds of years,” according to Hamilton.

He said samples sent to Norway are duplicates of rice conserved at IRRI’s IRG in Los Baños, that houses the largest collection of rice genetic diversity in the world. About 112,000 different types of rice (base collection) are kept for long-term storage, while the “active” collection, for medium-term storage are for distribution.

Dr. Hamilton said that IRRI shares seeds from the IRG for free with farmers, farmers’ groups, governments, universities, and others under conditions set by the International Treaty on Plant Genetics Resources for Food and Agriculture, adding that 126 countries signed the Treaty that ensures the fair sharing of benefits from the use of these resources.

IRRI, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Nov. 17 this year, built the IRG in 1965.

IRRI’s comprehensive rice collection includes samples of wild rice, ancestors of rice, traditional and heirloom varieties, and modern varieties.

Dr. Hamilton said the foresight that drove its establishment is best demonstrated through IRRI’s work with national research institutions in characterizing traits that benefit rice breeding and developing improved rice varieties that address current and future challenges that rice farmers face in their fields.

”IRRI also works with governments in replenishing lost rice varieties.

IRRI’s research manager at IRG Flora de Guzman said the importance of preserving genetic diversity is in the spotlight this year as the world celebrates the International Year of Biodiversity that promotes awareness and appreciation of the world’s ecological and agricultural diversity.

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