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Doomsday seed vault receives its first seed withdrawal request from war-torn Syria

Established in 2008, the Global Seed Vault is home to more than 865,000 varieties of seeds that are being stored in case of catastrophe. The vault is being used as the final backup for many crops that otherwise could be lost due to a natural disaster, war or other calamity. For the first time in its short history, the gene bank has received a withdrawal request for seeds that are in danger of being lost as a result of the Syrian war.

Formerly headquartered in Syria, the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) is requesting the return of  325 seeds that it placed in the bank. ICARDA placed the seeds in the vault before a civil war ravaged its home country. The gene bank was able to move its headquarters from Syria to Beirut Lebanon early in the war. As a result, ICARDA was able to preserve over 80 percent of its existing collection.

To better serve its community and re-establish its collection, the organization has asked for the return of the seeds it placed in the storage facility. These seeds will be moved outside of war-torn Syria and used to assist breeders, scientists and farmers who are struggling because of the brutal civil war.

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This global seed vault is a unique facility. It is located deep inside a mountain on an island in the Svalbard archipelago. The facility is located in a cold, remote area that is half way between Norway and the Arctic pole. The doomsday facility is a fortress that can protect the seeds from natural disasters, power outages and military conflicts. Because it is built into the permafrost, the main storage facility is kept well below freezing and can sustain its cold temperatures with no outside energy source. It currently holds holds 865,000 varieties of seeds and has space to store up to 4.5 million different varieties. Each variety has at least 500 seeds each.

The Svalbard storage facility has become home to the world’s largest and most diverse crop collection thanks to generous donations by seed gene banks and other organizations worldwide. Though individual gene banks have their own storage facilities and preservation plans, the Svalbard seed vault is the doomsday option, providing a final backup cache for many of these globally significant crops.