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A global seed vault, preserving crop varieties from over 100 countries, opened this week (26 February) in Svalbard, Norway.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established to preserve seed samples of the world's crops, guarding against the loss of the planet's biodiversity.

The vault is financed by the Norwegian government with the support of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Nordic Gene Bank, and has the capacity to preserve 4.5 million different samples — up to two billion seeds — for thousands of years.

Contributions were received from gene banks around the world, including beans from Colombia, forage crops for livestock from Kenya, cowpea, soybean and groundnut, from Nigeria, and rice from the Philippines.

Rodomiro Ortiz, director of Resources Mobilization at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, says the centre sent 47,251 varieties of wheat seeds and 10,470 varieties of maize seeds — roughly a third of Mexico's collection of crop genetic resources.

"We'll continue sending backups of regenerated collections to Svalbard each year until the entire CIMMYT cereal collection is represented in the vault holdings," Ortiz told SciDev.Net.

The seeds will be stored at a temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius. Organisations like CIMMYT will have access to the samples for their own research.

CIMMYT is the only Mexican research centre contributing to the Global Seed Vault. But, according to Mexico's National Institute of Forest, Agricultural and Cattle Research (INIFAP), there are more unrepresented varieties stored in 50–60 seed banks in other institutions like the Autonomous University of Chapingo, the National Autonomous University of Mexico and INIFAP.

Antonio Turrent, a researcher at INIFAP, says the Global Seed Vault is an interesting initiative, "but the best way to protect the Mexican food biodiversity is to construct and support germplasm banks here, in Mexico." He says, the Mexican government has yet to implement such an initiative.

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