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Press release

Frozen ark

The world’s first DNA bank to preserve all endangered animals

Thousands of animals are expected to disappear within the next 30 years, including 1,130 species (24%) of mammals and 1,183 species (12%) of birds1. In losing these species we not only lose many unique animals, we also lose the opportunity to save their genetic material and therefore the chance for any future scientific research is lost forever.

A new initiative, the Frozen Ark, supported by the Natural History Museum, the Zoological Society of London and the Institute of Genetics at the University of Nottingham, aims to collect, preserve and store DNA and tissue samples from animals in danger of extinction. The project will ensure that the important genetic information of each animal is secured should they become extinct in the future.

The core collections will be set up at the Natural History Museum and the Zoological Society of London, creating the world’s first DNA and tissue bank dedicated to all the world’s endangered animals.

The project will collect DNA samples from all kinds of species, everything from mammals and birds to insects and reptiles. Priority will be given to animals in danger within the next five years and those that are already extinct in the wild. It will then focus upon many thousands of animals that are expected to disappear within the next few decades. The first seriously endangered animals to enter the Frozen Ark will include the spotted seahorse, scimitar horned oryx, Socorro dove and Partula snails.

The Frozen Ark will become a central reference collection underpinning future biology research and conservation. Samples from captive breeding programmes, zoos and wild populations will be collected and then frozen at minus 80 degrees Celsius. The Institute of Genetics at the University of Nottingham will provide laboratory facilities to ensure and develop the best methods of collecting, preserving and storing samples.

The project will also develop a DNA database of endangered species identified by the IUCN Red Data List and from other local, national and international lists. It will include information about DNA, cell or tissue samples of animals already collected, in order to build a global list of DNA collections.

‘Natural catastrophes apart, the current rate of animal loss is the greatest in the history of the Earth and the fate of animal species is desperate’, said Prof Phil Rainbow, Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum. ‘Progress in molecular biology has been so fast that we cannot predict what extraordinary things may be possible in the next few decades. For future biologists and conservationists and for the animals they seek to protect this global network will be of immeasurable value.’

DNA contains the genetic building blocks for every species and can tell scientists about its biochemistry, physiology, ecology and, if enough tissue samples are available, even how it evolved. DNA samples will provide a crucial resource for understanding variability and animal evolution, helping to inform future conservation activity. Future biologists may find many more uses once the Ark’s world-wide network of complementary banks is up and running.

As an insurance against damage or loss to frozen samples, duplicates of the specimens will be located in other institutions across the world, for example at the Centre for the Reproduction of Endangered Species in San Diego and at the Animal Gene Storage Resource Centre of Australia in Melbourne.

- Ends -

Notes for editors
1 Global Environmental Outlook report presented to the United Nations Environmental Programme on the state of the global environment.

Members of the Frozen Ark Steering Group
Dr Ann Clarke University Senior Research Fellow Institute of Genetics,
University of Nottingham
Dr Wayne Boardman Head of Veterinary Services Zoological Society of London
Prof Bryan Clarke FRS Institute of Genetics,
University of Nottingham
Prof Alan Cooper Director Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre, Oxford
Prof William Holt Zoological Society of London’s
Institute of Zoology
Prof Anne McLaren DBE FRS The Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK
Prof Philip Rainbow Keeper of Zoology The Natural History Museum
Mr Colin Tudge
Dr Chris Wade Institute of Genetics,
University of Nottingham


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Liz Woznicki or Chloe Kembery
The Natural History Museum Science Communication PR Office
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Email: (not for publication)

Issued August 2004