Scientist Preserve Endangered Species' DNA

ByABC News
February 8, 2001, 11:16 AM

April 17 -- Movies like Jurassic Park, with its fantasy 20th-century dinosaurs, bring to life creatures that have long disappeared from our planet. But we neednt turn to science fiction to show us lost worlds.

In our own lifetime, its estimated that 40,000 species become extinct every year. To help keep a record of this disappearing life, a team of scientists is trying to establish a global DNA bank for endangered animals.

Although banks containing animal genes are scattered throughout the world, this would be the first international effort to collect and compile tissue samples from all known endangered animal species.

Final Vestiges

Scientists currently must rely on studying fossils and other bits of data to understand extinct animals, like dinosaurs and woolly mammoths. A DNA bank would provide future generations with a more complete and accurate record of now-threatened species, such as black rhinos, giant pandas and tigers.

Oliver Ryder, a geneticist at the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species, Zoological Society of San Diego, and lead author of the proposal, which was published in last weeks issue of Science, says, The future will find uses for the information obtainable from DNA banks that we cannot presently imagine.

While Jurassic Park-like recreations are remote at this point, experiments are under way to freeze the eggs and sperm of endangered species in a process called cryopreservation. An embryo may then be implanted into a non-endangered host animal, thus preserving the donor species.

If DNA samples are collected before a species population drops to dangerous lows, Ryder and his colleagues additionally believe that preserved cell lines for endangered animals could be replicated. Such nuclear replacement cloning might be able to restore earlier levels of genetic diversity within a species.

Ryder hopes that information from the samples could be available to scientists and conservationists worldwide via a single Web site, perhaps run by a multinational organization.