Portsmouth researchers examine DNA of extinct species inside ‘Frozen Ark’

COLD STORAGE Dr Rhiannon Lloyd of the University of Portsmouth examines specimens from the Frozen Ark, which includes cells from the scimitar horned onyx, inset.
COLD STORAGE Dr Rhiannon Lloyd of the University of Portsmouth examines specimens from the Frozen Ark, which includes cells from the scimitar horned onyx, inset.
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IT COULD one day give scientists the chance to clone extinct species.

The University of Portsmouth has acquired a huge huge tissue bank containing the DNA of rare mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

Scimitar Horned Oryx

Scimitar Horned Oryx

Dubbed the ‘Frozen Ark’, it contains thousands of cell samples preserved in liquid nitrogen vapour at a temperature of around -302.8F (-186C)

It was previously held by the Zoological Society of London, and contains the extinct socorrow dove and the scimitar horned oryx.

Those from the endangered list include the Sumatran Tiger and the Amur Leopard, of which there are only 30 of left in the wild.

Dr Rhiannon Lloyd, from the university’s School of Biological Sciences, said that the cells could be used to clone endangered animals.

‘In principle, the cells could be used to re-create species using the same cloning techniques that have been used on common animals such as sheep and cattle,’ she said.

‘The preserved cell samples contain a DNA blueprint of the animal and if they are frozen under the right conditions then we can use them to generate offspring.’

Most of the cell samples originated from zoos where animals had died naturally or were put to sleep following an illness.

The concept is similar to The Millennium Seedbank Project in Wakehurst Place, West Sussex, which stores seeds of plants from around the globe.

Dr Lloyd added the collection would enable the continuation of crucial research and conservation work at the university.

‘The Ark contains a wealth of information about species which might otherwise be lost forever,’ she said.

‘It means we can study their genetics and better understand the evolutionary relations between groups of animals. By thawing just a few cells we can grow even more cells which can be used to further research into conservation, animal and human health. But in reality we’re still a long way off from being able to use today’s cloning techniques to resurrect species from the past, as cell viability isn’t the only important factor.’

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are over 800 extinct species and almost 10,000 more are threatened with extinction.

The collection held by the university is part of the international Frozen Ark project which preserves the genes of species.