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Scientists to employ Arctic ice and polar bears to protect diversity of world's crops

SVALBARD, NORWAY--On an island near the North Pole, heads of State from five Nordic countries and the Global Crop Diversity Trust laid the cornerstone today for a "fail-safe" seed vault to be carved into an Arctic mountain. The vault will ensure the long-term survival of the world's vital food crops. As polar bears prowled the island, the head of the Trust called the repository a major hedge against catastrophe--part of a broad global strategy to protect the world's food supply through conserving critical seed collections around the world, from the tropics to the highest latitudes.

"This facility will provide a practical means to reestablish crops obliterated by major disasters," said Cary Fowler, the Trust's Executive Secretary and lead author of the just- released Feasibility Study for the Arctic seed vault. "But crop diversity is imperiled not just by a cataclysmic event, such as a nuclear war, but also by natural disasters, accidents, mismanagement, and short-sighted budget cuts."

The Norwegian government and the Global Crop Diversity Trust spearheaded the effort to establish a seed repository of last-resort in the Arctic ice; carved into permafrost and rock, it will eventually house the seeds of every nation.

The Trust, an international, non-profit organization works to support the world's most critical crop collections, now scattered among some 1,400 gene banks on every continent (save Antarctica). While their status varies greatly, many are in dire straits, threatening the survival of some of the world's unique crop varieties. Yet agriculture worldwide relies on these collections of crop species and their wild relatives. They are vital to the development of new varieties, without which agriculture would grind to a halt.

Today's ceremony, featuring the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Dr. Fowler, marked the initiation of the vault's construction with a stone-laying event. In a significant expression of support,
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