Arctic ‘doomsday’ food vault welcomes millionth seed variety

Representatives from many countries and universities arrive in the Svalbard's global seed vault with new seeds, in Longyearbyen, Norway February 25, 2020. NTB Scanpix/Lise Aserud via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NORWAY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NORWAY.

OSLO (Reuters) – A vault in the Arctic built to preserve seeds for rice, wheat and other food staples contains one million varieties with the addition on Tuesday of specimens grown by Cherokee Indians and the estate of Britain’s Prince Charles.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built on a mountainside in 2008, was designed as a storage facility to protect vital crop seeds against the worst cataclysms of nuclear war or disease and safeguard global food supplies.

Dubbed the “doomsday vault”, the facility lies on the island of Spitsbergen in the archipelago of Svalbard, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, and is only opened a few times a year in order to preserve the seeds inside.

On Tuesday, 30 gene banks deposited seeds, also including offerings from India, Mali and Peru.

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in Britain banked seeds harvested from the meadows of Prince Charles’ private residence, Highgrove.

The vault also serves as a backup for plant breeders to develop new varieties of crops. The world used to cultivate around 7,000 different plants but experts say we now get about 60% of our calories from three main crops – maize, wheat and rice – making food supplies vulnerable if climate change causes harvests to fail.

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