View Full Version : Frozen Ark Saves Endangered Species' DNA

Thursday, October 14th, 2004, 10:28 PM
Frozen ark saves endangered species' DNA

England's Frozen Ark and similar projects have stored genetic material from threatened animals to maintain the records of evolution -- and possibly to clone species.



WASHINGTON - If Noah were still around, he would surely give his blessing to an international science project called the Frozen Ark -- an attempt to preserve the DNA of thousands of the world's endangered species before they go extinct.

As Noah saved doomed creatures from the biblical flood on his wooden ark, so the scientists' goal is to salvage the rapidly shrinking biological record of life on Earth.

In the distant future, they may even try to resurrect vanished creatures. DNA, the genetic code for building all living things, theoretically could be used to reconstruct a simple animal like a beetle or a jellyfish, but likely not a Jurassic Park-style dinosaur.

''Despite the best efforts of many people and conservationists, hundreds of thousands of extinctions have taken place before the animals could be rescued,'' said British zoologist Ann Clarke, director of the Frozen Ark project. Another 10,000 species are expected to disappear in the next 50 years.

''We aim to collect their DNA,'' Clarke said in an e-mail from her office at the Institute of Genetics at the University of Nottingham in England. ``The loss of a species by extinction causes the irreplaceable loss of millions of years of evolution. If the cells and DNA are preserved, much of this information is saved.''

Among the first species whose genes are in storage at the Natural History Museum in London are the scimitar-horned oryx, a Sahara desert antelope; the Socorro dove, which lives only on one island off Mexico; Australia's hairy-nosed wombat; and the yellow sea horse.

A similar project, dubbed the Frozen Zoo, stores genetic material at the San Diego Zoo's Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species. The San Diego collection includes DNA from the giant panda, the California condor and the Hawaiian po'ouli bird, of which only three individuals are left on Earth.

Australia, China and India are also collecting genetic material from threatened animals. The global database on the Internet will serve as a central reference library for researchers.


The DNA, cells and tissues -- frozen in liquid nitrogen at 321 degrees below zero Fahrenheit -- should remain viable for thousands of years if properly maintained, said William Holt, a biologist at the Zoological Society of London.

Future candidates for preservation will be drawn from the ''Red Data'' list of endangered animals maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources ( www.redlist.org). Priority goes to animals in danger of extinction within the next five years.

Biologists say five mass extinctions have occurred since life began on Earth -- the latest 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs and many other species died out.

But human population growth, agriculture and industry are causing a sixth mass extinction, many scientists say.

''The fate of animal species is desperate,'' said Philip Rainbow, the keeper of zoology at the London museum. ``Except for natural catastrophes, the current rate of animal loss is the greatest in the history of the Earth.''

An organism's DNA contains ''a great store of information about its composition, development, behavior and ecology,'' Clarke said.

She said the information could be used to reconstruct the evolutionary history of an animal, improve domestic breeding programs and perhaps figure out how to save members of related species.

Christine Simmons, the associate director of the San Diego Zoo, said materials stored at the Frozen Zoo are being used by researchers who study animal evolution, aging and physiology. Better medical care for endangered species is also a possibility.


''It may even be possible to use the samples to create clones of extinct animals,'' Clarke said. ``The current progress in molecular biology has been so fast that we cannot predict what may be possible within the next few decades.''

Even if a lost species could be resurrected, Holt said it may not be desirable to do so. Such a feat would raise ethical questions.

''Would the animals be healthy or abnormal?'' he asked. ``Where would they be kept? Would they exist simply as moneymaking schemes for entertainment and curiosity?''

Despite the doubts, Clarke said, ``It is for future generations to decide what is acceptable. It is for us to store it before it is too late.''


Friday, October 15th, 2004, 02:07 AM
Interesting post.I wonder how long it will be before they need to put Aryans in such an ark?