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Syrian Seeds Stored in Norway for Safekeeping

A team of scientists in Aleppo won an award for their efforts to preserve plant diversity.

Image via ICARDA.

Syrian scientists are being rewarded for preserving life of another kind. In Norway, they’ve amassed a seedbank of 150,000 seeds in an effort to protect the vast, rich diversity of Syrian agriculture and horticulture. Last week, the guardians of the ICARDA genebank, which stores its seed collection at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian islands, were awarded with the Gregor Mendel Award for their extensive work.

“We are entrusted with the genetic wealth from some 128 countries—a resource we cannot afford to lose,” Dr. Mahmoud Solh, director of ICARDA, said in a statement. “Almost all the germaplasm collections are now saved outside Syria.”

The seed vault, which was ranked among Time Magazine’s best inventions in 2008, now houses seeds for Syrian chickpeas and the largest collection of fava beans and lentils in the world. These stores also include “ancient varieties” of durum wheat. The seeds are duplicates of those stored at the ICARDA genebank in Aleppo, Syria. The 12 members of ICARDA’s team in Aleppo, often at the risk of their own lives, have spent the past few years reproducing and recording these seeds so they could be packaged and shipped to the bank in Svalbard for safekeeping

Syria’s crops, in addition to being threatened by plant dieseases, climate change, overharvesting, and the encroachment of hostile species, have also been endangered by the protracted civil war. The constant bombardment has made the land uninhabitable for both humans and plant life.

“The loss of seed collections at times of conflict is an unfortunate fallout. We applaud the work of ICARDA’s Genebank staff which has gone above and beyond their duty to assure the conservation of this global heritage,” said Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. “We need to safeguard as much as possible of this diversity because any one of these varieties might have the trait we need to adapt to future known and unknown challenges.”

Image via ICARDA.

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