Safety Duplication

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.

How is it done?

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

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

Field genebanks

In vitro genebanks

Cryo genebanks

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:

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 Svalbard Global Seed Vault website.

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:

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.

The Genebanks

The 11 CGIAR genebanks currently conserve 730,000 of cereals and grain legumes, forage crops, tree species, root and tuber crops, bananas and crop wild relatives.