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Syrian Civil War Prompts Officials to Open ‘Doomsday Vault’

posted: 10/19/15
by: Danny Clemens
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Landbruks-og matdepartementet via Flickr

For the first time, officials have opened a so-called 'Doomsday Vault' that contains the world's largest collection of seeds.

Officially known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the collection is an insurance policy for the world community. Constructed by the Norwegian government at a cost of $9 million, the Vault holds 860,000 seed samples that comprise the world's largest collection of seeds. Up to 2.25 billion individual seeds can be stored in the facility, which is built to survive "rising sea levels, power outages and other calamities," according to its website.

"There are seeds in the vault that have originated from nearly if not every single country," says Brian Lainoff, a spokesperson for Crop Trust, the organization which operates the facility.

"It really is kind of the only example of true international cooperation. There's seeds sitting on the same shelf from North Korea and South Korea, and they get along just fine up there."

That exhaustive seed collection is a last-ditch resource intended to help the world get back on its feet in the event of a catastrophic crop failure.

For the first time since the vault was established in 2008, authorities were forced to withdraw seeds last month.

The Svalbard facility is part of a larger network of seed storage banks, one of which -- The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) -- was formerly based in Aleppo, Syria. In the wake of the intense fighting taking place in Syria, ICARDA has been forced to move its headquarters to Lebanon, although its physical seed collection remains in Syria.

ICARDA officials concede that they are experiencing difficulties maintaining their stock and have withdrawn "seeds necessary to uphold their collection" from Svalbard.

The seeds, which were moved secretly out of an abundance of caution, will ultimately be relocated to a location outside of Syria and used for research purposes.

According to a press release, ICARDA has already successfully duplicated 80% of its original collection in Aleppo.

Learn more about the vault:

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Seed Vault
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