Preserving the Future: The Importance of Seed Vaults in Conserving Wild Plants

Sanghyun Kim1,2*, Minseon Kim3, Naharin Sultana Anni4, Keehwa Bae3

1Group of Research in Ecology-MRC Abitibi (GREMA), Forest Research Institute, University of Québec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Amos, QC J9T 2L8, Canada; (S.K.);

2Center for Forest Research, University of Québec at Montréal, Montréal, QC H3C 3P8, Canada;

3Seed Vault Department, Baekdudaegan National Arboretum, Bongwha, Republic of Korea

4Department of Global Health, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada


There is a Greek saying, “The society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” This quote highlights the importance of preserving the environment for future generations. One way to do this is by conserving wild plants, which are essential for maintaining the biodiversity. Seed vaults are a crucial step in this effort, as they allow us to store and protect the genetic diversity of plant species for future use.

Figure 1: Baekdudaegan Global Seed Vault (summer view)

There are only two such seed vaults in the world: the Svalbard Seedvault in Norway and the Baekdudaegan Seedvault in South Korea. To our best knowledge, the Svalbard SeedVault preserves 5,000 plant species focusing only for food and agriculture. However, conserving only about 5,000 (1.56%) out of the 320,000 plant species is not sufficient. Hence, we need a place to store forests, and that’s where the Baekdudaegan Global Seed Vault comes in. Do you know where it is located? This Seed Vault can be found within the Baekdudaegan National Arboretum, which is located in Bonghwa, South Korea. As the largest arboretum in Asia, it provides an ideal location for the seed vault to operate within a diverse natural environment.

Seedvault vs Seedbank

Seedvaults and Seedbanks are two facilities that play crucial roles in preserving the genetic diversity of plant species for future generations. While they share the common goal of safeguarding seeds, they differ in their operational mechanisms. Seedvaults are often likened to an ark that houses seeds from all over the world. Once the seeds are deposited into the vault, they remain there indefinitely, unless they become extinct on Earth. Did you know that the Svalbard Seed vault was first opened in response to the 2015 Syrian Civil War, which resulted in the destruction of the seed bank in Aleppo? The Syrian scientists who had preserved the seeds had to request their counterparts to retrieve the seeds stored in Svalbard for restoration. This was a groundbreaking moment for seed vaults, highlighting the importance of Seedvault as a backup system that safeguards against the loss of biodiversity and potential global catastrophes. By preserving a diverse range of plant species, Seedvault ensures that these species can be revived even in the face of devastating events.

On the other hand, a Seedbank functions more like a library. It is a repository for seeds where they can be withdrawn, studied, and multiplied at any time. This allows for ongoing research and experimentation with different plant species, while still maintaining their genetic diversity. Seedbanks are typically located in various countries around the world, with each one housing a unique collection of seeds. With the rise in frequency and intensity of wildfires caused by climate change, it is crucial to extinguish forest fires. At the same time, re-establishing forests afterward is equally essential. In such cases, seed banks can play a vital role in forest regeneration by providing native plant seeds.

Figure 2 The Black Box Storage System in the Seed Vault

Baekdudaegan Seed Vault

The Baekdudaegan Seed Vault, has constructed several meters below the ground, maintains a cold and dry environment with temperatures as low as -20 °C and relative humidity at 40°C. Since its completion in 2015, there has been no instance of temperature or humidity issues, thanks to an ample supply of backup cooling systems. This facility also boasts backup power generation and self-generation capabilities to handle emergencies. Therefore, even if a power outage occurs, sufficient time can be bought to recover. The seeds themselves are meticulously sealed in black boxes to eliminate the possibility of theft. These sturdy boxes, similar in strength to car bumpers, are tightly sealed with a security label that leaves a visible mark if tampered with. This creates a sense of trust that “seeds are kept well without touching them.”

Another feature of the Baekdudaegan Seed Vault is its global research facility. Seeds collected other than donated seeds are effectively studied in research facilities. They conduct systematic and multifaceted experiments such as an X-ray test that can recognize fidelity, a tetrazolium response test that measures seed vitality, and a storage life study that recognizes storage capacity. In particular, it is worth paying attention to a machine called Thermal Gradient Plate (TGP). As many as 60 cells can be set to different temperatures, scientifically specifying optimal germination temperatures as well as minimum and maximum temperatures. This becomes very important data when seeds are revived later. In addition, the data studied in this way is open to the public for free. It can be used in different ways by industries and companies without any conditions, which will greatly help develop related industries as well as developing more effective treatments.

Upon reading this article, you may be wondering how you can contribute to the cause of preserving wild plant species through the Baekdudaegan Seed Vault. While it may be challenging for individuals to collect and store seeds under optimal conditions, it is important to remember that the seed vault serves as a permanent preservation solution for the ecosystem. As a supporter of the Baekdudaegan Seed Vault, you can help promote our mission to become a global ark for preserving the seeds of all wild plants. We welcome any suggestions or feedback you may have and encourage you to reach out to us. Together, we can help safeguard the biodiversity of our planet.

Reference: “The Seed Vault: Space and people preparing for the Earth’s disaster” (In Korean)

Sanghyun Kim (김상현) is a PhD student in Forest Ecology at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT). He previously received his master’s degree in Plant Biotechnology at Umeå University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). After completing his master’s degree, he worked for the National Institute of Forest Science (NIFOS), Korea. Sanghyun’s research interests lie in understanding the natural dynamics of soil microbial communities and their impacts on plant growth and health. He is passionate about his work and welcomes collaborations with international researchers in the field.