Genome Resource Banking for Global Conservation
Meeting the Challenge of Preserving Endangered Species
The National Zoo maintains a valuable
living repository of specimens from rare and endangered
species in the Genome Resource Bank to support efforts
in biodiversity and species conservation.
What is a Genome Resource Bank?
A Genome Resource Bank (GRB) is a frozen repository
of biological materials, including sperm and embryos, tissue,
blood products and DNA. Scientists in the Department of Reproductive
Sciences at the National Zoo and
its Conservation and Research Center lead the conservation
community as an advocate for GRBs for protecting and preserving
biodiversity, not as a replacement for preserving habitat
but as a helpful conservation tool. We also develop new cryopreservation
technologies that have value in understanding endangered
species biology (for fish to elephants) and are useful in
breeding and genetic management.
Why Is a Genome Resource Bank Important?
- Inexpensive movement of genetic material without removing
animals from the wild
- Serve as an insurance
- Extend the generation interval
- Increase the efficiency of captive breeding
- Minimizing the number of animals maintained in captivity
- Serve as a source for blood, tissue and DNA for analyzing
genetic diversity, paternity and disease exposure, etc.
GRB at the National Zoo
The GRB at the National Zoo contains more than 1,600 samples of frozen sperm or embryos
from 70 species (1.7 percent of all mammalian species worldwide)
and more than 8,000 serum samples from 80 species. These
materials are a resource for scientific study. But, unlike
archived items from other parts of the Smithsonian, our materials
are living and have value for "insuring" the
genes of valuable, one-of-a-kind species. This material has
practical use for propagating endangered species and for
assessing health and cause of diseases.
Milestones Achieved in Conjunction with a GRB for Endangered Species
- Producing cheetah cubs by artificial insemination with
frozen sperm (imported from Africa).
- Enhancing black-footed ferret reproduction for re-introduction
by producing multiple offspring with cryopreserved sperm.
- Assisting in genetic management of Eld's deer and
scimitar-horned oryx using cryopreserved sperm.
Developing GRBs in Range Countries
- A cheetah sperm GRB is being implemented with a NGO partner
in Namibia, to preserve the last remaining Feline Immunodeficiency
Virus-free population of cheetahs.
- The giant panda is another marquee species with a sperm
GRB being developed with Chinese partners as a hedge against
extinction and to support breeding programs.
- Efforts are underway to develop a GRB for Asian elephants,
clouded leopards, and fishing cats in Thailand.
Role of Basic Research in a GRB
Developing reliable methods for cryopreserving biological materials requires
a thorough understanding of their cryobiological properties.
- Understanding the cryo-sensitivities of spermatozoa from
the cheetah, jaguar, clouded leopard, and fishing cat.
- Understanding the cryobiological properties of oocytes
from a host of mammalian species.
- Developing methods for successful cryopreservation of
testicular and ovarian tissues.
- Testing the biological competence of cryopreserved gametes
(sperm and oocytes) and tissues in various model systems.
Training and Capacity Building
The Department of Reproductive Sciences offers a hands-on training course on
fertility assessment, collection of biological materials and preservation of
gametes, embryos, blood products, tissue and DNA. The course is geared to graduate
students, veterinarians, zoo professionals, and wildlife managers with an interest
in reproductive physiology and conservation biology. To date, this course has
been conducted in various countries such as South Africa, China, India, Brazil,
former Soviet Union, Myanmar, Thailand, Panama, and Vietnam.