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Permafrost to protect the biodiversity of the Earth
by Natalia Kovalenko
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Mar 05, 2014

The global seed bank on Spitsbergen has already been named the depositary of the Judgment Day

Samples of 20 thousand plants from 100 countries have been added to the world's largest collection of agricultural plants. Neither a flood nor nuclear explosion would be able to destroy them. The seed storage facility built on the Norwegian isle of West Spitsbergen was built in order to preserve the biodiversity of the planet's vegetation for the posterity.

Among the latest samples that the humankind was afraid to loose there are seeds of miso necessary for the preparation of the famous Japanese soup, of the Brazil nut and of a rare kind of cherry tomatoes.

The seeds of these and other plants took their due place on the shelves of the storage facility in Spitsbergen. There they will stay forever while being aired, checked for fertility and replaced by fresh ones, but they will always stay in the storage in case of global catastrophes.

Russia also takes part in that international program to preserve the biodiversity of the planet Earth's vegetation, says Nikolai Dzyubenko, PhD and director of the All-Russian Research Institute for Plant Cultivation named after Vavilov.

It is storage of genetic diversity in case of emergency situations: space catastrophes, nuclear war or flood - so that afterwards the population of the planet could be provided with food, clothing and medication.

Russia has transferred about 10 000 samples for safe keeping in that storage facility. It is the black box principle. We send seeds there packed in sealed boxes and can take back our samples at any moment. In other words there they take seeds for storage in the depositary without giving them the right to use them without the consent of the owner of the collection. They are responsible for preserving the samples, but are not responsible for their germination ability. At a certain time we need to replace these samples.

Today practically every country has its own bank of seeds. The largest banks are in the USA, China and Russia. Specifically, the Vavilov All-Russian Institute of Plant Cultivation has a collection of over 300 thousand types of seeds. In Yakutia, on the territory of the Institute of Permafrost Studies of the Siberian chapter of the Russian Academy of Sciences federal seed cryostorage has been set up with a capacity of 100 thousand seed samples.

However, on Spitsbergen a unique and practically invulnerable depositary was created. It was built at the altitude of 130 meters above the sea level at a distance of 1100 km from the North Pole where there are only rocks and permafrost. The walls are made of fortified concrete one meter thick, there are double doors with anti-explosion protection; motion detectors are installed everywhere.

And, most importantly, the temperature inside is always set at -18 degrees Celsius. That is especially important. Various plant seeds have different germination threshold, but it has been proved that a constantly low temperature and a constant level of humidity allow to extend the life term of the plant's germ by tens of thousand times, says Vladimir Murashov, head of the laboratory of plant development at the Moscow State University.

In Tundra holes of lemmings have been discovered that date back 10-15 thousand years. Lemmings stored seeds of various plants and made deposits. When those holes were opened, some uneaten seeds were discovered in the deposits. People managed to sprout those seeds despite them having been stored for such a long time.

The global seed bank on Spitsbergen has already been named the depositary of the Judgment Day. Today seeds of over 820 thousand cultivated plants are stored there. In total that seed storage is capable of storing about 4.5 million types of seeds.

Source: Voice of Russia


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