The world is facing a biodiversity crisis. In the past 50 years, we have lost half of all wild animal populations. This is due to a number of factors, including habitat loss, climate change, and overexploitation. As a result, many species are now at risk of extinction.
One promising solution to this problem is cryobanking. Cryobanking is the process of freezing and storing genetic material, such as DNA and embryos, at ultra-low temperatures. This allows us to preserve genetic diversity and potentially bring extinct species back from the brink.
The Study and its Findings:
A recent study published in Zoo Biology explored the significant role of living cell banks, known as cryobanks, in global conservation efforts. The study analyzed the Frozen Zoo® at the San Diego Wildlife Alliance, the world’s largest collection of living genetic samples, to develop a framework for prioritizing species for future sampling. Researchers also used data from the Species360 Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), the largest species database, to identify opportunities for genetic sample collection.
The findings revealed that the Frozen Zoo® currently holds genetic samples from 965 different species, including 5% of threatened amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles listed on the IUCN Red List. Further sampling from zoos and aquariums could increase this representation to 16.6%, providing access to an additional 707 threatened species. Moreover, genetic samples of 50% of species listed as extinct in the wild are already stored in the Frozen Zoo®, with the potential to reach 91% through sampling from the zoological community.
The Importance of Cryobanking:
Lead author Dr. Andrew Mooney highlights the critical timing of collecting and preserving genetic samples from threatened species. As wildlife populations continue to decline globally, cryobanked samples offer unparalleled conservation opportunities. While preventing species decline in the wild remains a priority, cryobanking safeguards genetic diversity and can enhance adaptability and resilience when reintroducing species into populations.
The Role of Zoos and Aquariums:
Co-author Johanna Staerk emphasizes the significant role of zoos and aquariums in genetic sample collection and endangered species preservation. Zoos and aquariums provide an ideal resource for obtaining genetic samples, especially since it is challenging to access wild species. Their collaboration with global cryobanking initiatives is crucial for species survival.
The study suggests a framework for prioritizing species in genetic sampling and proposes the establishment of a global cryobanking database to facilitate collaborative preservation efforts. Preserving genetic diversity through cryobanking now can help protect species in the face of future challenges, such as climate change, which threatens even those currently classified as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN Red List.
A Case Study: The Northern White Rhino:
The potential of cryobanking is exemplified by ongoing efforts to save the functionally extinct northern white rhino. Assisted reproductive techniques using samples from the Frozen Zoo® are being employed to prevent the complete disappearance of this subspecies. The case of the northern white rhino underscores the urgency of proactive measures and the necessity of a global cryobanking database to ensure timely conservation actions.
The biodiversity crisis is a serious threat to our planet. But cryobanking offers a promising solution. We can all make a difference by supporting cryobanking initiatives. Here are some ways you can help:
- Donate to organizations that are working to cryobank genetic samples.
- Volunteer your time to help with cryobanking efforts.
- Spread the word about the importance of cryobanking.
Together, we can help to preserve the genetic diversity of our planet and prevent species extinction.