The Frozen Zoo was mentioned in our email on maintaining genetic diversity, which you can read here if you missed it. However, the work at the Frozen Zoo goes beyond maintaining or improving genetic diversity and represents how technological advances can help with conservation efforts.
The Frozen Zoo has a collection of over 10,000 cell cultures from around 1,000 animals.1 There are high hopes that these cultures can be used to bring back endangered species, restore genetic diversity, and help with genome sequencing.1,2,&3
They have been collecting tissues since 1975. They then grow the cells and freeze them.2 The Frozen Zoo has been able to produce pheasant chicks through artificial insemination as well as develop feline eggs into embryos through in vitro fertilization.1
The reason this is such a game-changer is that they can use the samples they’ve collected from various animals and turn them into pluripotent stem cells, which can be turned into any kind of cell in the body. They can turn these stem cells into eggs and sperm to develop embryos of animals that are struggling.2 This can reintroduce genes that have been lost from the gene pool.3
The Frozen Zoo has also been involved in cloning animals – such as Kurt, their Przewalski’s horse. They were able to clone him from cells they’d collected back in 1980.3 Their work has also helped with over 140 genome sequencing projects, including a project called Genome 10k which hopes to sequence 10,000 species.1&2
Initiatives like these show how scientific development can help us with conservation efforts. Zoos already work hard with their breeding programs, but this offers another way to help ensure genetic sustainability with those animals as well as possibly help animals that have such low numbers that normal breeding programs may not work as well.
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