Kim Ritman, Australia's chief plant protection officer, inspects seed due to be sent to the Global Seed Vault in Norway. Photo: Ali Kuchel.

Seeds are Svalbard bound

A shipment of a vast array of pasture and grain crop seeds stored in Australia are being sent to the so-called Doomsday Vault in Norway .

THE AUSTRALIAN plant breeding sector is sending a second consignment of seed from seed banks across the country to the so-called ‘Doomsday Vault’ at Svalbard in Norway.

The Norwegian facility, official known as the Global Seed Vault, is located inside the Arctic Circle and is designed to preserve seed in the event of large scale disaster or war across the globe.

Kim Ritman, Australia’s chief plant protection officer, said around 34,000 types of seed would be sent in this shipment, made up of stocks from the Adelaide and Horsham seed banks.

The seeds sent to Norway will act as a back up to those stored in the Australian facilities.

Dr Ritman said around 25,000 seeds will be pasture species while 9,000 will be grain crops.

In terms of broadacre crops there will be cultivars of cotton, chickpea, lentil, sesame, sorghum, wheat, barley and canola, while there will be a mix of tropical and temperate pastures.

Dr Ritman said samples of Australian native grasses would also be set to head to Svalbard.

As part of the process of preparing the seeds for delivery they go through a process of being counted, weighed and tested for germination viability.

“You need to make sure the seed is in appropriate condition before it is sent,” Dr Ritman said.

The total shipment will fill two pallets and will be flown to Norway.

Biosecurity officer Megan Davies busy documenting seed samples due to be sent to Svalbard. Photo: Ali Kuchel.

It will be refrigerated on its way to the airport, but following being loaded on the plane there will be no special storage protocols.

“The major issue will be to ensure the seeds don’t get too hot on their way to the airport, once they arrive in Norway excess heat certainly won’t be the problem,” Dr Ritman said.

Down the track, he said tests would be conducted that would shed light on storage performance.

“We’ll be really interested in the future to see whether the seeds stored in Svalbard perform better than those stored in our gene banks, whether the transport causes deterioration or what other links we can find.”

He said the international seed collection was critical in terms of making plant breeding breakthroughs.

“The rich store of species and cultivars we’ve got in the gene banks across the world will provide some of the genetic material to help plant breeders make advances, whether it be in terms of yield, disease tolerance or even abiotic stresses such as drought or heat.”

Dr Ritman said wild relatives of popular food crops often had evolved to endure in tough conditions.

“If we can harness these traits we may be able to breed tougher food crops better able to withstand stress.” 

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