Crop Genebank Knowledge Base

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Procedures Safety duplication

Safety duplication

View section on safety duplication in chapter on seed storage by clicking on the icon above. (0.1 MB)

Contact person for Safety duplication: Jean Hanson, ILRI, Ethiopia

Contributors to this page: CIP, Lima, Peru (David Tay, Ana Panta, Catherine Espinosa); IFPRI, Washington (Daniela Horna); ILRI, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Jean Hanson); independent consultant (Juvy B. Cantrell); Bioversity International/ILRI, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Alexandra Jorge) including information extracted from: Rao NK, Hanson J, Dulloo ME, Ghosh K, Nowel D and Larinde M. 2006. Manual of seed handling in genebanks. Handbooks for Genebanks No. 8. Bioversity International, Rome, Italy. 147pp.


What is safety duplication?

This is the duplication of a genetically identical sub-sample of the accession to mitigate the risk of its partial or total loss caused by natural or man-made catastrophes. The safety duplicates are genetically identical to the base collection and are referred to as the secondary most original sample (Engels and Visser, 2003). Safety duplicates include both the duplication of material and its related information, and are deposited in a base collection at a different location, usually in another country. The location is chosen to minimize possible risks and provides the best possible storage facilities.

Safety duplication is generally under a ‘black-box’ approach. This means that the repository genebank has no entitlement to the use and distribution of the germplasm. It is the depositor’s responsibility to ensure that the deposited material is of high quality, to monitor seed viability over time and to use their own base collection to regenerate the collections when they begin to lose viability. The germplasm is not touched without permission from the depositor and is only returned on request when the original collection is lost or destroyed.

Safety duplication is done for all original seeds collected by the genebank or only held by the genebank. Seeds which are duplicates from other collections can usually be retrieved from those collections and do not require safety duplication unless there is doubt about their security in the other collection.

Information on the principles and best practices for safety duplication are spread through the literature. Recommendations based on scientific evidence and principles are presented as best practices for safety duplication of crop germplasm. Some general principles for safety duplication are given below.

  • Maintain at least one duplicate of each accession as a safety back-up.
  • Select a location with a suitable environment, good security and low risk for the duplicate samples.
  • Consider risks to loss of genetic integrity within accessions and loss of accessions in selection of the location.
  • Consider costs and practical arrangements.

How is it done?

Samples are prepared for safety duplication in the same way as is the base collection:

  • Sample size should be sufficient to conduct at least three regenerations.
  • Material should be clean and healthy.
  • Material should be placed in appropriate containers.

Safety duplication of seeds should be under a black-box agreement while duplication of in vitro and cryopreserved samples may be under different agreements that require the recipient to assist in monitoring and reporting. If the storage conditions for the backup collection are the same as for the base collection, loss of viability can be predicted from the results of base collection monitoring.

Seed genebanks

  • At least 500 viable seeds for outbreeders and heterogeneous accessions with high diversity.
  • A minimum of 300 seeds for genetically uniform accessions.
  • More seeds for accessions with seeds of low viability.
  • An initial percentage viability of 85% and 3-7% seed moisture content.
  • Packaging material of 12 µm of polyester, 30 µm of aluminium foil and an inner layer of high-density polythene of 80 µm thickness.
  • Self-adhesive labels that are resistant to below zero temperatures outside and inside each packet of seeds.
  • Storage temperatures of -18°C to -20°C.
  • Samples should be renewed from the sender when the viability of the samples in similar storage conditions in the sender's base collection starts to decline. The samples in black-box storage can be either destroyed or returned to the sender and replaced with a new batch.

Field genebanks

  • A minimum of three to five replicates per accession.
  • Renewed when 30% of the collection is no longer viable.

In vitro genebanks

  • A minimum of three to five replicates per accession.
  • Stored in glass test tubes or gas-permeable, heat-sealable polyethylene bags.
  • Samples should be renewed from the sender (sub-cultured from remaining replicates in sender genebank) when one replicate deteriorates or shows signs of senescence.

Cryo genebanks

  • A minimum of 100 units or propagules per accession.
  • Two batches of accessions must be cryopreserved separately to minimize risk.
  • Polyester thermal transfer-printed label for cryovials.
  • Polypropylene vials with a secure seal for cryosamples.
  • Storage containers with narrow necks.
  • Alarm system to indicate low liquid nitrogen level.
  • Samples should be renewed from the sender when the viability of the samples in similar storage conditions in the sender's cryo collection starts to decline. The samples in black-box storage can be either destroyed or returned to the sender and replaced with a new batch.

Packing and shipping

Strong cold-resistant boxes (thick carton or polypropylene box) are the best options for transporting and storing seeds. Boxes should be sealed properly. Shipment should consider the fastest means of transport available either by air freight, courier or by land to avoid deterioration of seed quality or cultures during transit. In vitro cultures in sealed test tubes can be packed in strong thick cardboard or plastic boxes while cryopreserved materials should be transported using liquid nitrogen.

For black-box duplication outside the country, special permission is required to export seeds without phytosanitary certificates from the originating country. Similarly, the phytosanitary authority in the destination country must permit the recipient to import seeds without the routine quarantine examination. Material sent as in vitro or cryo plant cultures may require disease indexing before shipping for major diseases so that only certified disease-free germplasm is exported (see pages on Safe Transfer of Germplasm).

It is recommended to ship by the most direct and fastest route in the cooler seasons and label boxes clearly to indicate the need for temperature control and proper handling during shipment. It is desirable to include a data logger outside the box to monitor temperature changes during transport.

More information and a detailed analysis of options and current practices for safety duplication of seeds and vegetative material assessed against technical and economic considerations that mitigate risk, as well as recommended best practices based on scientific evidence and principles, can be found in: Safety duplication principles and strategy (December 2008).

Legal arrangements

Any safety duplication arrangement requires a clear signed legal agreement between the depositor and the recipient of the safety duplicate that sets out the responsibilities of the parties and terms and conditions under which the material is maintained. A draft standard depositor's agreement that can be customized to meet the needs of safety backup of seeds or vegetative collections is available at:

Safety deposit agreement - user's guide
Standard safety deposit agreement


Suggested information for safety duplication includes the following:

  • Depositor code.
  • Depositor’s accession number/identifier.
  • Crop and full scientific name: genus, species, subspecies, including authority.
  • Storage conditions/collection type.
  • Type of container.
  • Container identification number.
  • Total amount of seeds stored (by weight or number) or number of replicates/accessions (test tubes, cryovials, number of plants per container).
  • Date (month/year) of viability testing & regeneration (seeds) or subculture (in vitro).
  • Date of freezing (cryopreservation).
  • Collecting number.
  • Country of collection or source.
  • Date of storage.
  • Location in genebank.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway is an example of a secure facility for safety duplication of crop genetic resources. Located far beyond the Arctic Circle and 130 m deep inside a frozen mountain, permafrost provides an environmentally friendly solution to long-term secure conservation of crop diversity as a third safety duplicate that is only accessed in case of disaster or loss of the samples from the main safety backup. The vault can hold 4.5 million seed samples of crop diversity at storage temperatures of -18°C. Currently over 420 000 samples have been deposited there for safety. For more information visit the learning resources and Svalbard Global Seed Vault website.

Sending germplasm to Svalbard

Click on the arrow to see the pictures

Experience with using the safety duplication principles

Safety duplication tends to be done on a routine basis, but at irregular intervals, when a batch of material has been regenerated and is ready for duplication, therefore experience with using these principles and recommendations will take time. Some general issues that should be considered include:

  • The principles are very generic and may be difficult to implement for some species due to the inherent biology of the samples, e.g. short-lived seeds, large seeded species where space and cost may be limiting.
  • More careful tracking of shipments and monitoring of viability is important to ensure that seeds of high viability reach the duplicate site. However, since most samples are in black-box storage and viability cannot be checked on arrival, this raises a logistic problem. It is proposed that monitoring the samples should be routinely included in the shipment and agreements reached with the recipient institution on monitoring viability or returning samples for monitoring to the sender.
  • Issues of liability may occur related to sending samples in sealed black-box conditions. One issue is on liability for contents of the sealed box and handling by customs and other authorities for entry into a country. In some cases boxes are opened and special seals are applied by the authorities to confirm that the samples are not medicinal or other prohibited plants. Another issue raised has been on the liability of the recipient institution should material be damaged or lose viability earlier than expected due to poor storage conditions.
  • Genebanks may be more likely to use the new recommendations and agreement if approved by the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
  • Some additional public awareness on the recommended best practices and draft agreement is needed to promote their more widespread use.

Current status of adoption of the safety duplication principles and lessons learnt from their application.

References and further reading

Dussert S, Engelmann F, Noirot M. 2003. Development of probabilistic tools to assist in the establishment and management of cryopreserved plant germplasm collections. Cryoletters 24:149-160.

Engelmann F. 2004. Plant cryopreservation: Progress and prospects. In vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology plant 40:427-433.

Engels JMM, Visser L, editors. 2003. A guide to effective management of germplasm collections. IPGRI Handbooks for Genebanks No. 6. IPGRI, Rome, Italy. Available in English (1.4 MB) and Spanish (1.5 MB). 

FAO. 2013. Genebank standards for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian and Chinese here.

Harding K. 2004. Genetic integrity of cryopreserved plant cells: A review. CryoLetters 25:3-22.

Nordgen. 2008. Agreement between (depositor) and the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food concerning the deposit of seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The Svalbard Gloal Seed Vault. [online] The Nordic Genetic Resource Centre, ALNARP. Available from:

Reed BM. 2008. Plant Cryopreservation: A practical guide. Springer Science and Business Media, USA 513 pp.

Reed BM. 1991. Application of gas-permeable bags for in vitro cold storage of strawberry germplasm. Plant Cell Reports 10:431-434.

Reed BM. 1992. Cold storage of strawberries in vitro: A comparison of three storage systems. Fruit varieties journal 46:98-102.

Reed BM, Engelmann F, Dulloo ME, Engels JMM. 2004. Technical guidelines for the management of field and in vitro germplasm collections. IPGRI Handbooks for genebanks No. 7. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy. Available here.

Reed BM, Paynter C, Bartlett B. 2002. Shipping procedures for plant tissue cultures. USDA-ARS-NCGR. Available from: Date accessed: 26 March 2010.

Tay DCS, Liu CR. 1992. Using hard agar medium and grooved tubes for the distribution of sweet potato tissue culture. Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter-FAO/IBPGR no. 88/89:23-25.

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