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Cryoconservation: Nature’s SAFE celebrates biobanking100th species.

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

Nature’s SAFE, one of Europe’s largest living biobanks is freezing tissue samples from the world’s rarest animals to save them from extinction. Nature’s SAFE is now home to biological tissue samples of 100 of the planet’s most endangered species – providing a vital insurance policy for threatened wildlife, so it can be protected for generations to come.

Currently, 100 species are lost each day to extinction, and as the last few species die, their genetic blueprint is removed forever from our planet. Nature’s SAFE partners with accredited zoos to collect and process tissue and reproductive cell samples from threatened and endangered species, storing them in an indefinitely cryopreserved living state at -196oC. Once thawed, these stored living cells can one day be used in cell culture or assisted reproductive technologies to maintain genetic diversity in the species gene pool.

With gene pools shrinking, cryopreservation is a critical piece of the conservation puzzle, providing a safeguard for animals the world is currently on track to lose.” said Dr Sue Walker Head of Science at Chester Zoo and Co-Founder of Nature’s SAFE.

Biological samples from the Eastern black rhino, jaguar, Javan green magpie and mountain chicken frog are some of the highly threatened species that have been frozen at the Nature’s SAFE biobank. Photos courtesy of Chester Zoo.

As a centre of excellence in reproductive science, Nature’s SAFE has to date cryo-preserved multiple cell types from many endangered animal species, including the critically endangered mountain chicken frog, Javan green magpie, pied tamarin, and jaguar. The 100th species to join The Living Biobank, is the Owston’s civet; a beguiling animal on the brink of extinction in the wild across South East Asia.

Dr Veronica Cowl, Reproductive Biology Coordinator for Chester Zoo and the European Association for Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) said “We’ve been working on understanding reproduction in the elusive Owston’s civet for more than three years, and it’s fantastic that we can now preserve the genes from the current zoo population in Nature’s SAFE, The Living Biobank. It’s a great step forward in our work to prevent the extinction of this beautiful species, and it’s a pleasure to work with such a passionate group of people”.

Owston's Civet on the edge of extinction. Photo courtesy of Shaldon Wildlife Trust.

Nature’s SAFE has an ever-expanding, global network of expertise to enable cutting-edge reproductive and biobanking science to be delivered to zoological collections for free and invites queries from potential new biobank partners or supporters.

Without Nature’s SAFE, for many species already so near the brink of extinction, there will be no return. With Nature’s SAFE and other biobanking partners – there is optimism. We know the 6th mass extinction on Earth is underway, and there will be rough times ahead. The question is what do we want to do about it? And our answer is: we want to secure future options for biodiversity, by acting now.

~ Tullis Matson, Chair and Founder, Natures SAFE

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