frozen “animal stocks” at -200 ºC

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More than the motto of a laboratory, the sign that hung years ago over the center created in the mid-70s by Kurt Benirschkegeneticist of the University of California, in San Diego, resembled the message on a fortune cookie: “You must collect things for reasons you don’t yet understand.” It almost looks like a haiku. But it made all the sense in the world half a century ago. And still has it now. What Benirschke and his team have since “collected” are tissues from rare or endangered animals, samples that help preserve diversity.

When Benirschke got down to business five decades ago, many people could see his work as eccentric. by then gene technology was in its infancy. It was not known if the material they were collecting would be of any use and, if so, how or when it could be used. Today his collection is already giving results and is known internationally as Frozen Zoo. Yes, Frozen Zoo, in Spanish. And it’s not the only one of its kind.

We believed that we could resurrect extinct species, like in Jurassic Park.  It will be very difficult

What are frozen zoos? The facilities like the one promoted by Bernischke in San Diego (USA) resemble conventional zoos in one important detail: they are devoted to animals. In everything else, they are rather little alike. Instead of cages or feeders, they use “freezers”, facilities that allow cryopreservation and keep, for example, cells frozen at -196ºC or preserve DNA from endangered species. Some facilities even have vaults with sealed boxes containing thousands of crop seeds.

Frozen Zoo started using a tank with liquid nitrogen decades ago and today it adds more than 10,000 cultures of live cells, oocytes, sperm and embryos that represent around a thousand taxa, including an extinct species, the po’ouli or black-faced honeycreeper. In the case of Frozen Arkaccumulate some 48,000 samples of 5,500 speciesthe vast majority DNA.

What do they do? Its goal is to create a great library of biodiversity to contribute to the preservation and study. “We can apply new techniques and technologies to expand our knowledge and learn more relevant information in order to prevent the extinction of endangered species,” explains Oliver Ryder, a geneticist at the San Diego Zoo. to CNN. Since they began their mission in the 1970s, the study of genetics has made great strides that allow them to get more out of the samples they have been collecting over the past decades.

Thanks to the genetic material preserved in San Diego, it has been possible, for example, to clone several species in danger of extinction, such as the indian gaur, Przewalski’s horse or a certain type of ferret. Beyond the new copies, remember cnn, cloning is useful for tackling one of the great problems faced by communities of threatened species, on the verge of extinction: low genetic diversity. By having samples taken decades ago, the variety is enriched and, consequently, its own resilience against threats is reinforced.

Science is close to resurrecting the mammoth.  The question now is whether it will have intellectual property

Beyond cloning itself. Not everything is cloning. How to collect Frozen Zoo, its researchers dedicate efforts to other lines of work that favor animals. One of those they have underway wants to develop a sample bank to identify illegal specimens of primates or duikers in the bushmeat trade. Another, just as exciting, Genome10Kaspires to the sequencing of the genomes of 10,000 species for study.

“To understand the consequences of biodiversity decline, scientific research needs access to current and historical information and biological material from declining species,” scores Frozen Ark. The data can be used to studies so diverse such as cancer research, limb growth, or better understanding recovery processes.

Some international references. Due to its age and the fame of Kurt Bernischke himself, who died in 2018, perhaps the best-known center internationally is the Frozen Zoo, in San Diego; but of course it is not the only institution in the world focused on the study and preservation of endangered or alien species. In the United Kingdom there is the cryobank Frozen Arkthe result of the collaboration of several top-level institutions, such as the University of Nottingham.

Another UK cryobank is Nature’s Safe, founded with the objective, he details, of “saving animals from extinction through the collection, indefinite storage and regeneration of reproductive cells and cell lines.” Something different is known as “vegetable Noah’s ark”an impressive global sample bank located in Svalbard, Norway, where more than a million seed samples of different crops from almost all over the world are kept.

Julia Koblitz Rloawxt2fea Unsplash

A task more urgent than ever. If in 1972 Bernischke’s task and, especially, that of Frozen Zoo could sound like eccentricities, today his role is more necessary than ever. WWF data shows that the biodiversity of our planet is not going through its best moment. According to your report Living Planet IndexBetween 1970 and 2016, vertebrate populations, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, have plummeted 68%. The data is 8% higher than that of the previous report, from just a couple of years ago, and it does not paint a very rosy scenario: we are seriously affecting the habitat of hundreds of thousands of species.

The debates it brings to the table. Although its approach and mission bear little resemblance to that of conventional zoos, questioned for years by environmental associations, the truth is that at least part of the activity of facilities such as the Frozen Zoo open debates that are as interesting as they are thorny. For example: that we can “de-extinct” a disappeared species, does it mean that we have to do it? And if so, will we allow the effort required for such a feat to be profitable? Colossal Laboratories & Biosciences He is already moving to “revive” the woolly mammoth, but if he succeeds, the following question already arises: Would he have a patent?

The sector itself faces major challenges, largely derived from the costs and complexity of its activity. The aspiration of a cryobank is to have as broad and rich a base as possible; but as it grows, its maintenance will also become more expensive. After all, if today we make profits from the samples collected by Bernischke in the 1980s, it is because that material has been preserved for almost 40 years. To achieve this, the sector needs to guarantee that it will have funds for liquid nitrogen and cryotanks, it must show its value and join efforts.

Pictures | Wesley Pribadi (Unsplash) Y Julia Koblitz (Unsplash)

More than the motto of a laboratory, the sign that hung years ago over the center created in the mid-70s…

More than the motto of a laboratory, the sign that hung years ago over the center created in the mid-70s…

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