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Seeds from JKI Fruit Gene Bank deposited in perpetual ice

Dr. Monika Höfer at the entrance to the Seed Vault, showing the deposit certificate for wild apple and wild pear seeds from the JKI genebank, © M. Nagel/IPK-Gatersleben

The repair of the Global Seed Vault near Longyearbyen on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen took two years and cost 20 million dollars. At the reopening ceremony on 25 February, 60,000 new seed samples provided by 29 institutions from all over the world arrived at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Among them, for the first time, were seeds from the Julius Kühn Institute.

"It was a really great experience for me to take part in this big event in the perpetual ice only 800 kilometres from the North Pole," says Dr. Monika Höfer from the JKI Institute for Breeding Research on Fruit Crops in Dresden. The manager of the Fruit Gene Bank at the JKI and coordinator of the German National Fruit Gene Bank personally delivered samples of wild apple (Malus sylvestris) and wild pear (Pyrus pyraster). This time there were only two packets, which is not comparable to the thousands of samples from other gene banks that were stored in the ice as a backup. However, the number of JKI accessions in Svalbard shall increase. "We are going to send in new samples of wild apples and wild pears of different origins from the JKI Fruit Gene Bank every year from now on," said Monika Höfer, “It is all about maintaining the genetic potential in these species". The alleles secured in this way might one day become useful for breeding. The JKI also plans to have a backup of wild strawberry species in the seed vault in future. Anyway, the reproduction of the fruit varieties is exclusively vegetative, with the new plants being conserved as duplicates by the partners of the German National Fruit Gene Bank.

The Global Seed Vault consists of a 120 metre long tunnel and three large storage rooms. In total, the vault, which is designed to preserve and protect the diversity of crop species and varieties in the event of a regional disaster, currently contains more than one million seed samples. It has a capacity of 4.5 million samples, which are stored at a temperature of minus 18 degrees. The vault has already proven its usefulness. After the destruction of a gene bank in Aleppo, Syria, the seeds stored in Svalbard were used to rebuild the collection in Morocco and Lebanon.