The civil war in Syria has prompted the first withdrawal from the Arctic 'doomsday vault' - a seed storage unit built on an island between Norway and the North Pole, to safe-guard the world's food supply in the event of a global catastrophy, such as an outbreak of disease or nuclear war.

Researchers in the Middle East have now asked to withdraw a range of drought-resistant crop seeds, including wheat, barley, and grasses, from the vault. They would usually get these seeds from a facility in Aleppo, Syria, but even though the seeds are still there and safe in cold storage, the scientists are unable to access them as a result of damage to the surrounding buildings caused by the war.

The doomsday vault was built into the side of a frozen mountain on the Svalbard archipelago in 2008, and it's been specially designed to keep crucial crop seeds safe and ready to replant following pretty much any disaster you can think of.

Even without power, the vault would be able to remain locked and frozen for 200 years. But now the Syrian civil war will trigger the first withdrawal of seeds from the facility.

The request was made by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), which was originally based in Aleppo. In 2012 the Centre moved to Beirut in Lebanon to escape the conflict, but they don't have access to their seed supplies, which is why they've asked to withdraw 130 of the 325 boxes that they dropped off to the vault before the war.

The organisation that runs the vault, Crop Trust, has said the request will be carried out as soon as the paperwork is completed. "Protecting the world's biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault," spokesperson Brian Lainoff told Reuters earlier this week.

The vault currently includes more than 860,000 seed samples from almost every country on the planet. This withdrawal will take out around 116,000 of those samples, according to Reuters. But there are new deposits being made to the vault each year, so there's no risk of the vault running out of seeds.

And don't worry, the ICARDA scientists will put the seeds to good use. The aim of the Centre is to help alleviate poverty and world hunger by growing, researching, and distributing crops that will grow better in dry areas. 

Now more than ever those are important goals, and with around one-third of the global population living in arid regions, their work could help to feed a whole lot of people. We think it's amazing that the doomsday vault is able to help them continue their research despite war in the region. Science prevails.