Seeking a cool way to curb extinctions

Living cell banks keep genetic samples of endangered species

Researchers are banking on a cool solution to help save species from extinction.

A recent study published in Zoo Biology looks at the potential of living cell banks, also known as cryobanks, to contribute to global conservation. Much like freezing eggs to preserve human fertility options for later, cryo-freezing genetic samples taken from wildlife may help curb extinctions. 

Researchers analyzed the San Diego Wildlife Alliance’s Frozen Zoo, the world’s largest collection of living genetic samples—including DNA, embryos, semen and live tissue—kept at ultra-low temperatures.

The Frozen Zoo collection represents 965 different wildlife species, including half of those considered extinct in the wild and 5% of those listed as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Researchers found that further sampling from zoos and aquariums could dramatically increase those numbers.

The San Diego facility has been used to try to aid the northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), a subspecies with just two surviving females.

“Cryobanked samples provide unparalleled conservation opportunities,” said lead author Andrew Mooney, of the Dublin Zoo and Trinity College Dublin, “however we must make a concerted effort to work together and collect samples now, before it is too late.”

Read more from Trinity College Dublin.

Header Image: The last two northern white rhinos are kept at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy inn Kenya. Researchers hope cryo-banking might offer a way to conserve the species. Credit: Karimi Ngore