Wednesday, July 6

The CSIC deposits a thousand varieties of seeds in the vegetable ‘Noah’s Ark’ of the Arctic

A delegation from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) has delivered to the remote island of Svalbard, in the Arctic, a selection of a thousand plant varieties from the Spanish national collection that will be deposited in the World Seed Bank of Svalbard (Norway), the advanced scientific infrastructure that houses the largest security collection of global agricultural biodiversity, and that safeguards the world’s food base, informs the Spanish institution in a press release.

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The award ceremony was attended by the Vice President of International Relations of the CSIC, Ángeles Gómez Borrego, and the researcher Luis Guasch, from the Plant Genetic Resources Center of the National Institute of Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (INIA-CSIC), who deposited the varieties vegetables.

This is the first time that the installation incorporates varieties from Spain, a country rich in biodiversity as it is a bridge between Europe, Latin America and Africa.

A pioneering infrastructure

The Svalbard Seed Bank, a kind of plant ‘Noah’s Ark’, is a global scientific infrastructure located on an island in the arctic archipelago of Svalbard. It stores more than a million seed samples of different crops from almost every country in the world; the largest collection of agricultural biodiversity.

“This material, also known as plant genetic resources, forms the basis of almost all our food”, explained Luis Guasch, INIA-CSIC researcher and director of the institute’s Plant Genetic Resources Center (CRF).

“It is about 1,080 Spanish varieties. Of these: 300 are winter cereals, 114 of which correspond to wheat; 510 are legumes, of which 189 are beans; 200 are horticultural, 81 of them tomatoes, and 108 varieties of corn”, he added. The duration of the deposit is usually 10 years, renewable.

The deposit plan for the samples from the CRF base collection began more than 6 years ago, following detailed work protocols. This is because, in order for the samples to be recent and to remain viable for as long as possible, perhaps hundreds of years, they must be multiplied in the field under the right conditions, without crosses or mixtures with other varieties, maintaining the identity of the varieties.

A project with international ambition

The project is sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the international organization Global Crop Diversity Trust (CROP Trust), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Norwegian government, which has made the installation a commitment to the conservation of plant genetic resources with a view to being able to face, if necessary, the challenges posed by climate change and other possible global threats.

The Spanish plant genetic resources conservation system established by Law 30/2006, of July 26, on seeds and nursery plants, is based on a system of duplicates or backup copies of active or exchange collections. The Plant Genetic Resources Center of the INIA-CSIC is in charge of the long-term conservation of entries or varieties in seed form.

“Its objective is to keep the seeds alive, so periodic tests are established to monitor their viability, both in the CRF security collection and in the rest of the Spanish banks and, if necessary, they are multiplied or regenerated in the field”, indicated Guasch.

Sending part of the seed collection to the Svalbard Dome is not a replacement for this security system, but rather an additional protection mechanism. “Only once has it been necessary to resort to the Svalbard bank to request seeds, on the occasion of regenerating the samples of the bank that existed in Syria, the Icarda, which was destroyed by the war”, he recalled.

More than 89 depositories have already sent their samples to Svalbard. Among them are the international conservation centers linked to the FAO, the large countries and the vast majority of European states.

At the time of the establishment of the Svalbard Dome, Spain made an extraordinary financial contribution to the FAO through the Secretary of State for International Cooperation and for Ibero-America, and this is the first time that it has sent seeds. This agreement led by the INIA-CSIC shows Spain’s commitment to the conservation of biodiversity and underlines the actions carried out in the CRF to improve the resilience of agricultural systems and their ability to adapt to climate change.

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