New Scientist said the vast seed bank, to be built inside a mountain, will house around two million seeds and is designed to safeguard food supplies in the event of nuclear war, climate change, terrorism, rising sea levels, earthquakes or other major disasters.


The magazine describes the project as a "Fort Knox for the world's crops".


The $3 million facility will hold sample of the all known varieties of the world's crops, said Cary Fowler, director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an independent international organisation promoting the project.


"If the worst came to the worst, this would allow the world to reconstruct agriculture on this planet," he told New Scientist.


According to backers, the seeds held in the vault will represent the products of some 10,000 years of plant breeding by the world's farmers.


Gene bank


"If the worst came to the worst, this would allow the world to reconstruct agriculture on this planet"

Cary Fowler,
Global Crop Diversity Trust

New Scientist says the Norwegian government plans to begin work on the remote vault in 2007.


It will be built deep in permafrost in the side of a sandstone mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, 1000km from the North Pole.


To be preserved, the seeds must be kept below freezing point, making the extreme conditions on the island ideal for the project.


"This will be the world's most secure gene bank by some orders of magnitude," said Fowler. "But its seeds will only be used when all other samples have gone for some reason. It is a fail-safe depository, rather than a conventional seed bank."


With walls of one-metre-thick concrete, the seed bank will be protected behind two airlocks and high-security blast-proof doors.


The facility will not be permanently manned but "the mountains are patrolled by polar bears," New Scientist quoted Fowler as saying.