Cryogenic bank in Yakutia organized to keep seeds reserves, says expert
The future storage’s capacity is planned for 1 million seeds
YAKUTSK, April 18. /TASS/. A cryogenic bank of seeds, which will be organized in Yakutia, will serve for the country’s food security in emergency situations. The costs are estimated at 1.2 billion rubles ($14.4 million), an expert of the Institute for Biological Problems of Cryolithozone (the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Siberian Branch), Professor Boris Kershengolts, told TASS.
In February, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin inked an order on a new national center for plant genetic resources at the Vavilov Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (VIR). According to the document, a backup cryogenic storage of VIR’s seed fund will be created inside Yakutia’s perennially frozen ground. The seeds may be used in case of emergency situations.
"Over recent 30 years, Russia has almost lost its seed independence," the expert said. "While the Soviet Union satisfied 100% of the seeds demand due to own developments and zoned varieties, nowadays the country receives from abroad mainly genetically modified seed grain. Those seeds give only one crop, and the daughter grain practically does not have the seed qualities. To a big extent, Russia has lost the seminal independence. The large-scale storages of the kind will be helpful to correct this situation."
The expenses to build an underground storage facility and a ground laboratory are estimated at 1.2 billion rubles ($14.4 million), he continued. The annual maintenance cost will make 20 million rubles ($240,000). According to him, the national seed collection has about 350,000 samples. "The future storage’s capacity is planned for 1 million seeds, which will be sufficient for international cooperation, including with countries in South-East Asia," he said.
The project is energy effective and highly autonomous. "The cryogenic storage has been designed to preserve the seeds even in a nuclear-weapon attack," the scientist said. "At the depth of 9-12 meters, the seeds will be safe fully in any events - natural or man-made calamities, or accidents on the surface."
"Electricity will be required only for emergency lighting," he told TASS. "The cooling would not require additional energy sources. Central Yakutia is a zone with the planet’s lowest temperatures of perennially frozen grounds. While in the global seed storage on the Spitsbergen (Norway) the frozen grounds’ temperatures are about 1-1.2 degrees, in this country they are minus 4 degrees."
Due to the technology to store the winter cold to support the stable negative temperature, optimal for the seeds’ safe storage, the cryogenic facility in Yakutsk would not require additional artificial energy-consuming cooling system. This is another feature, which makes it different from the global storage in Norway.
Work in test mode
The existing storage in Yakutia has been working in the test mode for more than 40 years. The Vavilov Institute’s first seeds were laid into the Melnikov Permafrost Institute’s underground mine back in the late 1970s. That experiment’s term was planned at minimum 30 years, without re-supplies. Thus, 30 years from the experiment’s start, scientists began to study those seeds’ qualities.
The seeds had been stored inside the permafrost at the depth between 9 and 12 meters. The storage did not require electricity. The scientists from the Melnikov Permafrost Institute have designed a technology to store the natural winter cold, which could guarantee year-round stable negative temperatures inside the permafrost’s mines, the scientist said.
The scientists have come to the conclusion that in the Yakut conditions the seeds’ sowing, physiological and genetic properties remained practically unchanged (85-90%) after the 40-years storage inside the cryogenic facility. "In late 2021 - early 2022, we made another inspection of legumes seeds, which had remained in the Yakut cryogenic storage for 43 years," the professor said. "We sowed the seeds, received plants, beans and new seeds, and then checked the daughter seeds. Thus, once again we have proved that the seeds, which had been inside the cryogenic storage for more than 40 years, preserved their features at the level of 80-85%. This means, their features are not inferior to those of fresh seeds."
The project to create a cryogenic storage is an infrastructure project under the North: Sustainable Development Territory scientific and educational center. The center has a youth laboratory to study plants’ gene pool. "Young scientists study at the Russian Institute of Plant Genetic Resources and they will be the new cryogenic bank’s backbone team," the scientist said in conclusion.