March 12, 2010

World Seed Vault Reaches Half-Million Mark

The foundation that oversees the Svalbard Global Seed Vault said Thursday that the unique Arctic "doomsday" stockpile of all the world's crop seeds has reached the half-million species mark.

The latest additions to the vault are a mold-resistant wild bean from Costa Rica, a vulnerable strawberry from a bear-infested part of Russia's Kuril islands and a host of American soybeans.

"Reaching the half-million mark brings mixed emotions," said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which coordinates the collection of seeds for the vault and helps pay for its upkeep.

"While it shows that the vault at Svalbard is now the gold standard for diversity, it comes at a time when our agriculture systems are really sitting on a knife's edge," he said.

The seed vault opened in February 2006 to bring together the seeds of the world.  The Norwegian government built it in a remote mountainside about 600 miles the North Pole.

Its sponsors say that if a natural or manmade disaster should destroy a particular species, scientists could use the collection of seeds to try and bring the species back into production.  The vault has a capacity of 4.5 million samples.


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