The Frozen Zoo: the University of New Orleans and the new world of saving endangered species

(New Orleans)-University of New Orleans scientists and professors are working on several programs aimed at preserving genetic diversity, increasing endangered animal populations, and saving animals on the brink of extinction--by stockpiling the genetic material (eggs, embryos, and sperm). They freeze the samples at -320°F and store them in liquid nitrogen tanks. The goal is: if the animals near extinction, the samples can be thawed and used to produce offspring through assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer, in vitro fertilization, embryo splitting, and inner cell mass transfer with the goal of repopulating them in their original habitat.

This is the scientists' "frozen zoo." By banking cryogenically preserved genetic material for future use, they create a safety net against the extinction of a species. This genetic material can be collected from animals in the wild, preserved in liquid nitrogen, and used to increase the number of individuals of captive species with the goal of repopulating them in their original habitat.

"If you freeze cells properly, you can revive them through precise thawing. The cells we're putting in this frozen zoo are viable and functional," says Dr. Betsy Dresser, the Virginia Kock/Audubon Institute Endowed Chair in Reproduction and Conservation of Endangered Species at the University of New Orleans (UNO), director of the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (the Research Center) in New Orleans, and professor in the UNO Department of Biological Sciences' new Ph.D. program for Conservation Biology. She says, "The frozen zoo can, theoretically, store this material for hundreds, even thousands, of years."

This is where the recent affiliation agreement between the University of New Orleans and the Research Center comes into play. It pledges to "establish a research and educational alliance" to focus on relevant issues of biodiversity and the environment.

Contact: Joseph White
University of New Orleans

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