A doomsday vault built inside a mountain on the Arctic archipelago, which was designed to store seeds from around the world, has now received the first set of tree samples for storage.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is located on Svalbard, an archipelago north of Norway, has received its first delivery of Norway spruce and Scots pine seeds and will now look after these samples.
The vault will use the tree samples to monitor the changes on natural forests as well as keep them as back-ups in case any of these tree species become lost in the future. It will also monitor how the forests change during breeding.
Although conserving different kinds of seed is the aim often associated with the vault, scientists have keener interest in using the seeds for studying how different organisms change.
Mari Rusanen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland, which is involved in the collection of seeds, said that the vault gives security and peace of mind in case unlikely events occur, but the samples will also offer an opportunity to track the long-term changes in our natural forests' genetic composition.
"For me, personally, the catastrophe scheme is not a major motivation," Rusanen said. "It is more important that these samples will, in the future, provide an opportunity to monitor long-term changes in the genetic composition of our natural forests."
The vault, which cost £5 million to build over a period of 12 months, is about halfway between the North Pole and Norway. It is run by Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Norway with the aim of conserving the plants of the planet.
Brian Lainoff from the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), which operates the vault, said that although Nordic consortium's seeds were the first to be deposited into the vault, further accessions would be those from other nations of the world.
GCDT said that the vault is in essence the ultimate insurance policy for the food supply of the world, securing millions of seeds that represent each important crop variety that is currently available in the world.
A total of 218 seeds were taken to the frozen vault, the oldest of which was from 1938. Other arrivals included nearly 2,500 rice samples from AfricaRice as well as barley, lentil, soy bean, wheat and sorghum samples from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Seeds from wild tomatoes, five of which were from Galapagos Islands, are also set to arrive this week.