Last week, frozen genetic tissue samples from an Arabian oryx, a spotted sea horse and a British field cricket were among the first specimens to be included in a unique project aimed at storing and preserving genetic material from 10,000 or so endangered species from around the globe. The project—dubbed Frozen Ark—is a joint collaboration between three British institutions, namely the Natural History Museum, the Zoological Society of London and the Institute of Genetics at the University of Nottingham. Duplicate specimens will be stored in other locations around the globe as an insurance policy against damage or loss.
“Natural catastrophes apart, the current rate of animal loss is the greatest in the history of the Earth and the fate of animal species is desperate,” said Phil Rainbow, keeper of zoology at London’s Natural History Museum.
Project leaders say they hope their collection can help stem the tide of species loss and someday enable scientists to clone extinct or nearly extinct creatures in order to preserve the world’s biodiversity.
According to Nottingham University population geneticist Bryan Clarke, the Frozen Ark would not immediately save any species from extinction. “The Frozen Ark is not a conservation measure but rather a back-up plan for when all best conservation efforts have failed,” he says.