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Apr 11, 2011 5:24 PM

Desert seeds stored in vault safeguarded against apocalypse

TUCSON - A University of Arizona scientist has taken out an apocalypse insurance policy on 74 species of desert legume by storing a collection of seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a vast underground collection of seeds located on a remote island off the coast of Norway.

Part of the purpose of the Seed Vault is to safeguard about a half million seed samples from a catastrophic event, and now includes 74 species from the Desert Legume Program, part of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"Species in the Svalbard collection have been used historically by indigenous people for vegetables and flour, as forage, honey, gum and medicine," said Margaret Norem, a researcher with the UA department of arboretum affairs. "Native Americans still use palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), slimjim beans (Phaseolus filiformis) and tepary beans (Phaseolus acutifolius) for vegetables," she said.

According to a release from the UA, Norem traveled to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, just a few hundred miles from the North Pole, to deposit the seed samples in the 0 degree Fahrenheit chamber, frozen shut with permafrost, at the end of a 100-meter tunnel dug deep into the mountainside.

The seeds aren't just from the American Southwest - the 74 desert legume species represent plants from 10 countries. The Desert Legume Program includes a total of 3,524 species from 57 countries banked over the last 22 years.

Pictured: UA plant scientist Margaret Norem outside the entrance to the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway in February. (Photo by Nancy Unklesbay. Courtesy UANews.com)

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