Science: Frozen Ark for Species Facing Extinction
The extraordinary project was set up to protect a vast array of animals from the threat of imminent extinction thanks to humankind's actions. Thousands of species are expected to be wiped out within the next few decades because of pollution, war and the destruction of natural habitats.
The threatened species face a salvation at the bottom of a deep-freeze unit in one of the museum's laboratories in west London. In most cases only DNA and tissue samples of endangered species will be stored.
Scientists behind the project, dubbed the Frozen Ark, are keen to preserve the DNA of endangered animals so they can continue research into their evolutionary histories even if they become extinct. More ambitiously, scientists hope one day to be able to use cells from the frozen tissue samples to recreate extinct animals using advanced cloning techniques.
DNA samples from the scimitar-horned oryx, which was declared extinct in the wild last year, became the first to be deposited, along with samples from the Socorro dove, a coral fish called the banggai cardinal, the yellow seahorse and the mountain chicken, which is actually a variety of Caribbean frog.
Other species will follow shortly, including the Polynesian tree snail, the Fregate island beetle, which is considered critically endangered, and the British field cricket, of which fewer than 100 remain in the wild. In the next 30 years, scientists predict 1,130 species of mammals and 1,183 species of birds will die out.
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