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Genebanks: Preserving genetic diversity for Earths future

DENVER, CO The idea of freezing and storing the genetic materials of endangered plants and animals in some offsite location sounds more like a Jurassic Park sequel than a reality, but it is something that is in the works.

Endangered species protection programs, zoos, and plant conservatories work to preserve the Earth's animal and plant population, but in order to preserve the richness of biological diversity, alternatives such as gene banking must be used, scientist said today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting.

As endangered species both plant and animal disappear from their natural habitats and become limited to zoos and animal parks, researchers are searching for alternatives to conserve these species.

In situ conservation, which aims to keep a species in their ecosystem or habitat, is a top priority. However, in order to protect endangered species, there have been additional ex situ conservation efforts, protecting endangered species in zoos and botanical gardens, and placing their DNA into gene banks. Thanks to recent developments in cryobiology, it is possible to keep tissues alive and unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years.

Using cryopreservation technologies, the Zoological Society of San Diego has created a "Frozen Zoo," which stores viable cell lines from more than 3,200 individual mammals, birds, and reptiles, representing 355 species and subspecies.

Oliver Ryder, the head of genetics at the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species at the society, said that while there should be a continued effort to preserve species in their habitats and in living collections such as zoos and botanical gardens, much of the future will be based on DNA or cell and tissue materials preserved in banks.

Ryder added that these banking efforts are often misinterpreted as we don't have to save endangered species because they're in the freezer. I
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16-Feb-2003


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