Officials say that thousands of seeds from the "doomsday" seed vault in the Arctic that were originally kept in war-stricken Syria have been safely delivered to Morocco and Lebanon. It is the first time seeds have been withdrawn from the repository.

Gene banks and organizations around the world have deposited about 860,000 samples of seeds at the Global Seed Vault, sometimes known as the "doomsday vault," in Norway's Svalbard archipelago to back up their own collections in case of man-made or natural calamities. The facility opened eight years ago.

In secret shipments last month, about 38,000 seed samples including wheat, barley, lentil and chickpea were sent to research stations in Morocco and Lebanon operated by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or ICARDA.