Syria’s civil war has prompted the first withdrawal of crop seeds from a “doomsday” vault built in an Arctic mountainside to safeguard global food supplies, officials said on Monday.

The seeds, including samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to dry regions, have been requested by researchers in the Middle East to replace a collection in the Syrian city of Aleppo that has been damaged by the war.

“Protecting the world’s biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” said Brian Lainoff, spokesman for the Crop Trust which runs the underground store on a Norwegian island 1,300 km (800 miles) from the North Pole.

The vault, which opened on the Svalbard archipelago in 2008, is designed to protect crop seeds – such as beans, rice and wheat – against the worst cataclysms of nuclear war or disease.

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