In this day and age, it’s not uncommon to hear about endangered species dying across the globe. According to WWF, there is about 1.4 and 1.8 million scientifically identified species on our planet. Of those species, approximately 200 to 2,000 extinctions occur each year. Some of these species include the recently extinct Hawaiian po’ouli bird, the Tasmanian tiger, and China’s baiji dolphin. These numbers are staggering and reveal just how imperative the need to preserve other endangered species.
The San Diego Zoo seems to have a plausible solution to the extinction issue: the Frozen Zoo. Since the loss of its 42-year-old northern white rhinoceros to cancer this past December, researchers at the zoo have been working non-stop on trying to save as much genetic material from as many endangered species as possible. Sperm, eggs, blood, and cells, or more specifically, pluripotent stem cells, are crucial to the preservation of endangered species.
The Frozen Zoo, founded in 1972, was designed as a genetic bank. The idea behind the Frozen Zoo is to freeze genetic material in liquid nitrogen so that, in case a member of an endangered species were to die off, their cells and DNA would be beneficial in genetic rescue and population sustainability. The Frozen Zoo has been continually archived for 40 years with the hope that the preserved cells could be used to clone endangered species and sustain a healthy population.
While some view the San Diego Zoo’s efforts as noble, other critics don’t seem to be on the same page. Some question if the Frozen Zoo is worth the millions of dollars being spent of its research and genetic collection. Others wonder if such emphasis should be put on endangered animals instead of on other issues such as global warming, pollution, and other essential topics. Another viewpoint is that the efforts to save such a small number of a species are hardly worth the time and money.
Still, the San Diego Zoo and the researchers working on the Frozen Zoo firmly believe their work is vital and should be acknowledged. “While we are aware of the challenges that face these research efforts, we are confident that retaining genetic diversity in small populations can contribute to their sustainability; it is this hope that drives us on,” said a statement on the San Diego Zoo website. The zoo sincerely believes their work could potentially bring back species that were thought to be long lost and reestablish entire populations such as, the giant panda and the Chinese monal pheasant.
Successful trials such as these can’t negate the impact of the Frozen Bank, but what about other species? Is there truly hope for them? Only one thing is certain, as scientific knowledge and technology advances over the course of time, the possibilities for genetic rescue and reestablishment seem possible.
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