Wednesday, February 11, 2015

San Diego Zoo Hosts a Gene Bank to Resurrect Extinct Species, Using Similar Methods as in Films Such as Jurassic World

""ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Whenever an endangered animal dies at the San Diego Zoo, researchers race out, regardless of the hour, to remove its sperm or eggs, maybe a bit of ear or eyeball, and carefully freeze the cells in liquid nitrogen.
Today, the survival of the northern white rhinoceros and dozens of other species could hinge on the collection amassed over nearly 40 years that has become the largest gene bank of its kind: The Frozen Zoo.
The icy vials may someday even be used in experiments to resurrect recently extinct animals, like the Hawaiian Po’ouli bird. The stainless steel tanks hold the genetic material of more than 10,000 individual animals from more than 1,000 species and subspecies.
The Frozen Zoo’s work has taken on renewed urgency since the San Diego Safari Park lost 42-year-old Angalifu to cancer in December, leaving only five northern white rhinos left in the world — and all unable to reproduce.
Scientists are racing against the clock to find the best way to utilize the bank’s frozen sperm to produce another one before the northern white goes extinct, which could happen within a decade.
Critics question whether it’s worth spending millions of dollars on species that are down to so few.
The bank is valued as a genetic archive that has helped advance artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, cloning and stem cell technology. But debate is stirring over how far such research should go.
“The frozen zoo is basically re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Paul Ehrlich, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.
He noted the world needs to address the problem’s root causes, such as population growth and climate change.
“Screwing around with science to save a white rhino might be fun and I would like to see it preserved and am all for biodiversity, but it’s so far down the list of things we should be doing first,” he said.
With species going extinct at a faster rate, zoos are taking on greater conservation roles and facing deciding which animals are worth focusing efforts on saving. Some may be extinct by the time another one is reproduced and possibly never live in the wild.
The northern white’s natural habitat is in war-torn countries like Sudan and Congo, which have been unable to stop poachers. The horn is coveted in Asia as an aphrodisiac, creating a market that threatens all rhino species.
There’s also the hurdle of producing enough offspring to avoid inbreeding.
“We can do all kinds of razzle dazzle things but it’s one thing to make another animal or two or three, but it’s quite another to make a sustainable population from a genetic standpoint,” said George Seidel, a Colorado State University professor who has written about resurrecting the woolly mammoth.""
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