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New DNA bank could help recreate extinct animal species

Thanks to a more than $1.3 million grant, woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats could someday be reborn. A new DNA bank for extinct animal species, known as the CryoArks Biobank, is the first effort to create a zoological biobank in the UK.

The DNA bank will also include samples from endangered species. The collection will allow researchers from all over the UK to study species and learn how they evolved, and what factors played a role in their rise and decline.

“Strategic sampling and careful storage allows us to measure shifts in key data such as species number and biodiversity and also chart biological adaptations to climate and habitat change,” said Tim Littlewood, who heads the Life Sciences department at the Natural History Museum in London. The museum will donate DNA samples to the biobank.

The collection will provide a record of species that lived on Earth, so that they can still be studied even after they’ve disappeared. It may even be able to harvest and preserve DNA from samples of long-dead species kept in museums, allowing them to someday be recreated.

The genetic samples will be preserved at very low temperatures to prevent degradation.

The work will be supported by a £1 million grant – about $1.33 million – from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which maintains a fund for sponsoring bioinformatics and biological research and resources.

Other institutions that will donate genetic material to the DNA bank are National Museums Scotland, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Edinburgh Zoo, University of Nottingham and University of Edinburgh.

The CryoArks project will also be linked to already-existing biobanks in the UK and Europe, such as the Frozen Ark. The project will be led by Dr. Mike Bruford of Cardiff University.

“Collections of tissue and DNA from laboratories, zoos, aquariums and museums will come together under a single structure, providing us with an unparalleled opportunity to better manage and share the vast amount of genetic material we have,” Bruford said in a press release. “It will allow researchers and conservationists to access material they never thought existed – including samples from wild populations and animals that are now extinct.”

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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