An academic at The University of Nottingham is among scientists developing the UK's first national zoological biobank, which will offer improved access to DNA from endangered species.
The £1 million CryoArks Biobank represents a major investment towards cryogenically preserving genetic materials for conservation and research.
Led by conservation geneticist Professor Mike Bruford of Cardiff University, the project team will also include Dr Lisa Yon, a Lecturer in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine at the University's School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.
Dr Yon said: "CryoArks will bring together scientists and key stakeholders in the zoo and aquarium community to develop the infrastructure and expertise to establish a well-coordinated and integrated bio-banking scheme which will preserve genetic material from wildlife species.
"This is a crucial resource to support both conservation efforts and research activities and will serve as a model which the team hopes will be used to extend this initiative to mainland Europe and ultimately worldwide."
Professor Bruford said: "CryoArks will expand and link together collections of preserved samples from across the UK.
"Collections of tissue and DNA from laboratories, zoos, aquariums and museums will come together under a single structure, providing us with an unparalleled opportunity to better manage and share the vast amount of genetic material we have.
"It will allow researchers and conservationists to access material they never thought existed – including samples from wild populations and animals now extinct.
"CryoArks is making a step-change in the way that genetic material is curated and is making it available to more scientists. From July 2018, we'll have access to more samples than ever, helping us to find ways to protect the future of our planet's wildlife."
Dr Yon has worked on wildlife health and disease for more than 20 years with veterinarians, curators and directors at zoos around the globe and has contacts both across the UK and internationally in the zoo and wildlife community.
In addition to her role as part of the executive team managing the project, Dr Yon will coordinate the sampling initiative at zoological institutions and liaise with key stakeholders within the zoo community. Her expertise will inform the development of best practice guidelines for biobank sampling and data analysis.
CryoArks has been funded with a £1m grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and brings together Cardiff University, the Natural History Museum, National Museums Scotland, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, University of Nottingham and University of Edinburgh.
The initiative will expand and link collections around the UK, including the Frozen Ark – based at The University of Nottingham's School of Life Sciences - and EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) biobanks.
CryoArks will provide cryopreservation infrastructure, databasing, a sampling initiative and public outreach in an unprecedented, coordinated effort to gather and curate the UK’s key non-human, non-model animal genetic material for conservation and research.
By bringing together such a strong team, CryoArks is aiming to transform the way genetic material is curated, backed up and made available to the increasing number of scientists who will not be able to access wild specimens as they become increasingly threatened. At the same time, this initiative will be used to greatly increase the size of the UK’s frozen collection by coordinated sampling through our partners in British zoos and aquaria and will work closely with research and conservation partners to ensure we are collecting the right material and plugging the gaps that currently exist in our national facilities.
Professor Bruford added: "The CryoArks Biobank marks a huge leap forward in zoological biobanking in the UK. With the world facing unprecedented challenges for our wildlife and climate change, having access to this data will help us to find solutions to protect our planet and its endangered species."
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