Saved for future generations
Andy Cripe

Just east of Corvallis is a gene bank that holds nearly 500,000 plant samples; some of are on their way to Norway's 'doomsday' vault so they'll be preserved from disaster

Hundreds of berry and fruit seeds from a Corvallis area facility will be stored in a "doomsday" vault in Norway, which opened Tuesday and is designed to protect the world's plant species from extinction.

There are Oregon blueberry offspring as small as a speck of dust, as well as hops, mint, pears and more.

"We did 100 seeds for each sample. And we had 324 different samples that were sent," said Barbara Reed, research plant physiologist at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository on Peoria Road.

The seeds were grown or collected at the facility, but came from all across the world. Many Oregon species were included in the shipment, however.

The Peoria Road repository is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in cooperation with Oregon State University, which also leases the property to the federal agency.

The repository is one of 20 USDA gene banks, which hold nearly 500,000 plant samples, including seeds, pollen and cuttings.

"The U.S. has an excellent system for seed storage and plant storage. Worldwide, not every country has that," Reed said.

The Norwegian seed vault provides an option for countries unable to afford their own seed vaults, and strongly highlights the importance of saving plant matter for the future generations, Reed said.

"There has been a lot of loss of plants throughout the world from clearing and development. These plants can be lost forever if they aren't saved in some way. Of course, the best way to do that is to protect the environment. But saving the seeds of the plant may make it available in the future," she added.

And that's happening at Peoria Road, too.

"We're kind of like a living library of plants important to American agriculture," said Bruce Bartlett, in charge of shipping at the facility.

Nearby, an OSU graduate student gathered pear and other tree cuttings for orders.

The facility gets more than 500 requests annually from other researchers, farmers and hobbyists, which it fills for free, Bartlett said. He added that last year, the local repository sent items to 30 states and 22 countries.

The Norway shipment was nice to think about, but also an average day of business, Bartlett said.

The Peoria repository, which specializes in fruits and berries, is staffed by four scientists, 12 technicians and usually about eight OSU students. Most workers help grow the 10,000 individual plants.

The majority of those are potted, including 1,400 strawberry plants covering almost all 25 species. The plants originated everywhere from Chile to Florida to Germany to Pakistan to a motel parking lot in Lincoln City.

"This is a strawberry from Alaska. … This one's from Japan," Reed said, in another part of the facility, looking through a freezer filled with silver-packaged seed samples.

Norway's government owns the $9.1 million Scandinavian vault, a backup to the world's 1,400 other seed banks. The underground "doomsday" vault in Svalbard sits in a frigid area only 620 miles from the North Pole. The inside of the vault is kept just below zero, a temperature at which the seeds could survive for 1,000 years, according to scientists.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Kyle Odegard covers Oregon State University. He can be contacted at kyle.odegard@lee.net or 758-9523.

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