Scottish scientists saved the future of the potato by storing samples in an earthquake-resistant vault.
The Global Seed Vault – a priceless treasure of the world’s plant life – is buried deep inside an ice-covered mountain fortress on the island of Spitsbergen between Norway and the North Pole.
The underground hold preserves duplicate seed samples stored in crop genebanks, protecting them from loss due to catastrophic climate change, natural disasters or human conflict.
The very first UK deposit to be made in the remote food bank is from the Commonwealth Potato Collection – a Dundee-based potato germplasm repository owned by the James Hutton Institute in Dundee.
World-renowned in crops, soils, land and environmental research, the institute employs more than 500 scientists from several locations, including Aberdeen and Dundee.
The Dundee site sent dozens of different species of potatoes to Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago to join the largest collection of plant seeds in the world.
It is a secure storage facility for up to 4.5 million crop seed samples from around the world.
Potatoes are the world’s fourth most important food crop behind corn, wheat and rice, with major expansion in countries like China and India.
Besides being very nutritious and healthy, the potato, if managed correctly and using the right varieties, gives the most food per unit area.
The institute is responsible for the conservation and maintenance of the CPC. Their resources were used to create well-known potato varieties such as Lady Balfour, Vales Sovereign, and Mayan Gold.
Efforts are underway to obtain the genome sequence of other potato species.
As a first step, scientists at Hutton are involved in the analysis of all EU-based gene banks containing members of the nightshade, a large family of plants of which the potato is a key member.
The goal is to make collections like the CPC easier to use in the future, ensuring that there is enough food for everyone on the planet for years to come.
Institute Director General Professor Colin Campbell said: “Establishing and sustaining CPC has become even more valuable, as new forecasts estimate a global population of 11 billion by 2100 and l importance of the potato as a staple food crop in many parts of the world.
“By recording CPC germplasm in the Global Seed Vault, we hope to preserve these precious genetic resources for generations to come. “