Syria war prompts withdrawal from "doomsday" vault

LONDON -- The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway has had its first withdrawal.

But as CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, the story starts 3,000 miles away in the city of Aleppo, Syria, at a research center which has been developing crops -- especially grains - for dryland farming.

Fighting in and around Aleppo, some of the fiercest seen during the still-raging war in Syria, threatened the center and its seeds, so staff sent a shipment to the safest place they could think of; the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, deep inside a freezing mountain in Norway.

Saving Seeds In Doomsday Vault

"ICARDA, the International Center for Agricultural Research in The Dry Areas, had taken the precaution of duplicating their seed collection and placing a duplicate copy up in Svalbard by the North Pole, for safe keeping, just for a circumstance like this," the Svalbard vault's founder, Professor Cary Fowler, told CBS News.

The vault, located above the Arctic Circle, is designed as the ultimate archive of plant biodiversity, and it's where the precious Syrian seeds were stored, preserved and protected, while back in Syria fighting forced the research center to close.

But there is good news. It's just re-opened in neighboring Lebanon, and the staff have asked Svalbard if they can have their precious seeds back.

Absolutely, says Dr. Fowler.

"Sending the seeds back should be a fairly easy enterprise," he told CBS News. "We'll book some tickets for them on the airplane."

By spring, the hope is that some of them will be growing again in their new home in Lebanon.

Palmer adds that the plan now is for the researchers in Lebanon to grow a duplicate stock of all their seeds, and send that back to Svalbard for safe-keeping, just in case it's ever needed again.