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Biobanking: Historic initiative aims to genetically rescue endangered species

In an ambitious effort to conserve the genetic diversity of America’s endangered species, the nonprofit Revive & Restore is focused on biobanking. 

This initiative, in alliance with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, marks the first-ever structured biobanking pipeline specifically for U.S. species that are threatened or endangered.

What is biobanking?

Biobanking describes the intentional and indefinite preservation of living cells, tissues, and gametes. It protects both unrecoverable genetic diversity in wildlife species and expands capacity for genetic rescue strategies both today and into the future. 

Currently, only 14 percent of (more than) 1,700 U.S. species listed as threatened or endangered have living tissue cryopreserved. 

America’s natural history 

“This is about creating a legacy of America’s natural history before it is lost and provides an important resource to enhance species recovery efforts now and in the future,” said Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore. 

Many experts believe we have already entered into Earth’s sixth mass extinction. New initiatives like biobanking are urgently needed to address this ongoing biodiversity crisis.

Genetic rescue

The pipeline encompasses tissue collection, establishment of living cell lines, and a nationwide repository for cryopreservation. 

These cell lines will equip the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with the means to oversee existing populations via genomic data and increase the scope for genetic rescue using state-of-the-art reproductive technologies.

“We want to provide the greatest possible set of options for ensuring the continued survival of the native wildlife of the United States,” explained Dr. Oliver Ryder, director of Conservation Genetics at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

“This creates a mandate for expanded efforts in biobanking living cells.”

Historic initiative 

“We are excited to be part of such a historic initiative that will provide the necessary resources for cutting edge conservation work going on today and in the future,” said Dr. Shawn Walker, vice president of Science and Technology at ViaGen Pets & Equine.

“The samples preserved during this endeavor will provide an invaluable genetic road map to enable the preservation of these endangered species.”

Resources for field biologists

In addition to this, Revive & Restore has carefully selected resources for field biologists to biobank specific species. 

The resources include peer-reviewed sample collection protocols, visual tools, and an anthology of published resources from institutions that are adept at biobanking and cryopreservation. All of these can be accessed at the project’s dedicated webpage.

This pioneering collaboration is a monumental stride towards safeguarding U.S. endangered species and assessing the ongoing biodiversity crisis.

Seizing the moment

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has selected its first 24 U.S. endangered mammals for biobanking, including the Mexican wolf, Florida bonneted bat, and Sonoran Pronghorn.

Seth Willey of the US Fish & Wildlife Service emphasized the importance of seizing this moment.

“Biobanking gives us the chance to save irreplaceable genetic diversity,” said Willey. “If done right, it creates a marker-in-time and gives future recovery biologists options, like genetic rescue, that are only possible if we act now.”

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