Cells belonging to critically endangered species are to be indefinitely stored in Europe’s first ever “biobank” in an effort to save the animals from future extinction.
The bank, known as Nature’s SAFE, will store the cells from animals including the Amur Leopard, Black Rhino and Mountain Chicken Frog, in cryogenic tanks in the UK. Nature’s SAFE has been granted charitable status in the UK and says it’s mission is “indefinitely preserving live cells from endangered species”.
“If we lose biodiversity we lose virtually everything on this planet, including ourselves, that’s how serious it is,” said the charity’s co-founder, Tullis Matson (pictured). “Because if you lose a certain type of animal… the whole deck of cards comes tumbling down”.
“We've got to have some way of saving these animals from disappearing, this is just one tick in the toolbox,” he added.
When an animal dies or has an operation experts will remove cell tissue samples, freeze them down to temperatures of -196C, and keep them in a dormant state indefinitely. When thawed, the cells are able to “wake up” and regenerate enabling them to be used for future artificial reproductive programmes or animal regeneration.
Dr Sue Walker, Nature’s SAFE Co-Founder and Vice Chair, Head of Science at Chester Zoo, and Chair of the EAZA Reproductive Management Group said: “The cryopreservation of reproductive cells and cell lines will be an important tool for population breeding programmes and the restoration of genetic diversity in animal species threatened with extinction.
“Having a facility solely dedicated to preserving these samples, Nature’s SAFE is a vital tool missing from the European zoo conservation toolbox.”
Saving the seeds of the most important crops on Earth. 40 years ago, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), established a gene bank in Tel Hadia, 20 miles south of Aleppo. In 2014, as Syria's civil war raged, scientists at ICARDA had to evacuate but they had already shipped off a resource of incalculable value: the seeds of the most important crops on Earth. More...