Lithuanian plant genetic resources are going to be stored in the Arctic Pole – at the Svalbard Seed Vault

The Lithuanian State Forest Servicehas signed an agreement with NordGen, the Nordic Centre for Genetic Resources, under which NordGen will store the seed collection of Lithuania's most valuable plant genetic resources at the Svalbard Seed Vault. The collection is currently being prepared for shipment and will be handed over to the vault on 9 June. Representatives of the Ministry of the Environment and the Lithuanian State Forest Service are traveling together. The Minister of the Environment Simonas Gentvilas will also attend the ceremony.

The project is being implemented together with the Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Lithuania.

There are around 1,700 plant genebanks around the world, where plant genetic resources important for food and agriculture are stored. These resources are important for preserving them for future generations in case natural cataclysms, wars or technogenic catastrophes strike a country and wipe out entire plant species. Collections of seeds and other genetic resources stored in plant genebanks would help to restore them.

But climate change, political decisions, and wars all threaten genebanks. In Aleppo, Syria, for example, a plant genebank was destroyed during the war. The war in Ukraine has led to intensive destruction of urban and regional infrastructure. These examples show the need to preserve seed collections of plant genetic resources in more than one location. As a result, countries have started to duplicate their seed collections and store them in a seed repository in the northern archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. This ensures that the most valuable genetic resources are preserved for several decades and reduces the likelihood of their irreversible loss due to a variety of unfavorable circumstances.

"I am delighted that Norway has agreed to accept and store Lithuanian seeds. Seeds of 124 plant varieties will be transported to Norway. This is also a recognition of our seed breeders, who are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year," said the Minister of the Environment Simonas Gentvilas.

The Svalbard seed vault is a black box facility, meaning that only the authority that has placed the seed in the vault can take it back. For example, in 2015, the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas took 38,000 seed samples from the Svalbard Seed Vault and sowed them in Morocco and Lebanon, and in 2017, new seeds of those plants were placed back in the Svalbard Seed Vault for long-term storage.

The Svalbard Seed Vault currently holds over 1 million 145,000 plant seeds and other genetic resources from almost 6,000 plant species. 89 institutions from all over the world have entrusted the Svalbard Seed Vault with their conservation.

The State Forest Service is responsible for the conservation of plant genetic resources in Lithuania. It holds and preserves the seed collection of individual plant genetic resources of importance to mankind and aims to ensure its long-term security. It was therefore decided to entrust samples from the Lithuanian seed collection to the Svalbard World Seed Vault.

According to the agreement, the collection will be stored at the Svalbard Seed Vault for several decades. At a later stage, the seed samples will have to be renewed.