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Guarding against doomsday for our plant species

9 May 2017

Guarding against doomsday for our plant species

AgResearch has deposited a collection of seeds in a remote Arctic doomsday vault to guard against the loss of plant species in war, disease or disaster striking New Zealand.

The deposit was made via an airmailed package delivered early this morning (NZ time) to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – a secure facility on the rugged Arctic Svalbard archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It is the second delivery of its kind from AgResearch’s Margot Forde Germplasm Centre (MFGC), following an agreement established last year.

The MFGC in Palmerston North is home to thousands of species including forages used to farm livestock in New Zealand - some developed for specific traits and environments - and herbs and legumes, and endangered plant species.

Deposits from the MFGC to the Svalbard vault will continue on an annual basis to build up a sufficiently diverse collection of plant species of interest to New Zealand agriculture, including those collected from all over the world.

“We want to ensure that should a major event happen in New Zealand like earthquake, fire, or a serious plant disease – that wipes out the collection held at MFGC or a specific plant species of interest to agriculture, we have a back-up to draw on so they are not lost to us forever,” says MFGC director, Dr Kioumars Ghamkhar.

“You only have to look at Syria where civil war has resulted in widespread losses of plant genetic resources and agriculture as a whole, but some of this has been preserved thanks to seed stored at the Svalbard vault before the war.”

The Svalbard vault extends 120m into rock, and has the capacity to store millions of seeds in sealed packages in sub-zero temperatures so they remain viable.

For more on the Svalbard seed vault, including the chance to take an interactive visit, go to

You can learn more about the Margot Forde Germplasm Centre at


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