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Seeds Saved

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) was able to save the gene bank samples stored at its main facility in Aleppo after the civil war began in Syria, and in recognition of that effort, the organization recently received the Gregor Mendel Innovation Prize, Nature's House of Wisdom blog reports.

Looters, Mohammed Yahia at the House of Wisdom writes, made off with the organization's computers and other equipment while staffers had to be evacuated.

The center had been duplicating its gene bank collection so that samples were also stored outside of Syria, including at the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway. In face of the conflict there, it sped up that process.

Yahia notes that the collection includes samples from wild relatives of important crops like bread wheat, barley, and lentil, and these wild versions often harbor genes that enable them to cope with drought, pests, and disease that are commonly been lost in domesticated plants.

"This is a uniquely rich resource for agricultural scientists seeking genes that can be used in international and national breeding programs to develop crop varieties tolerant to climate change, diseases, pests and harsh weather conditions," ICARDA's Ahmed Amri says in a statement.