December 11, 2023

Emily Alvarenga | The San Diego Union-Tribune

For practically half a century, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has been taking the fantasy world of “Jurassic Park” from fiction to actuality — minus the dinosaurs and destruction.

As wildlife populations plummet and biodiversity is misplaced worldwide, the alliance has been working to gather and protect genetic samples, taken throughout routine exams or after animals have died, from as many species as it may possibly with what it calls its Frozen Zoo.

Now its conservation efforts are being acknowledged globally, because it was designated Wednesday by a serious conservation group as its first-ever middle specializing in gene banking to assist uncommon and endangered species survive.

The Species Survival Fee of the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature — the world’s largest conservation group — has partnered with the wildlife alliance to kind the union’s latest Heart for Species Survival.

It will likely be one of many group’s simply 17 such facilities around the globe and the one one to give attention to a selected technique to stop species extinction, comparable to biodiversity banking, fairly than on a specific species or atmosphere.

The announcement is an indicator of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s progress in gene banking and the promise of its efforts in serving to endangered wildlife survive by means of reproductive help, stem cell remedy and cloning.

In recent times, it has led to advances scientists hope might make cloning viable sufficient to assist restore wildlife species — offered they show able to efficiently breeding.

Escondido, CA, October 11, 2023: Fibroblast cells of a black-footed ferret, that are used for cloning are proven on the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Biodiversity Financial institution Frozen Zoo on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 in Escondido, CA. The cryobank on the Frozen Zoo holds 1000’s of varieties of particular person animals. (Okay.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune) 

Whereas there are “Jurassic Park” connections — the artwork director of Steven Spielberg’s movie discovered inspiration from the Frozen Zoo and from the Safari Park’s entry gates — that work isn’t the stuff of science fiction.

Biodiversity banking, or biobanking, refers back to the means of preserving dwelling cells, tissue, eggs or sperm, seeds and different biomaterials. These genetic supplies are rigorously frozen in liquid nitrogen to allow them to be studied and used for years to come back.

“This lack of genetic range is our fault — it’s due to our actions — so we are literally resolving an moral drawback,” mentioned Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive sciences on the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

The survival of the northern white rhinoceros and dozens of different species might hinge on these preserved cells amassed within the final practically 50 years, in accordance with the group’s researchers.

The native assortment has develop into the biggest and most numerous of its sort. Thus far, the Frozen Zoo incorporates practically 11,000 dwelling cell cultures representing about 1,280 totally different species and subspecies of uncommon and endangered animals.

Biodiversity banking not solely preserves unrecoverable genetic range in wildlife species — probably giving them higher possibilities at withstanding environmental elements — but additionally expands the capability for genetic analysis and rescue, making “an eternal contribution to conservation,” Durrant defined.

“These cells ought to be right here lengthy after you and I are gone,” mentioned Marlys Houck, curator of the Frozen Zoo.

A small horse feeds in a field.
Escondido, CA, October 11, 2023: Kurt, the world’s first cloned Przewalski’s horse eats carrots and apples on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 in Escondido, CA. (Okay.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune) 

Domestically, a cloned Przewalski’s horse named Kurt born in August 2020 was among the many first genetic milestones within the alliance’s efforts to assist restore endangered animal populations.

He’s the world’s first efficiently cloned Przewalski’s horse, a breed native to Mongolia and previously extinct within the wild. They had been reintroduced to their pure habitat lately and are actually the one true wild horse left on the earth.

Named for Kurt Benirschke, who based the Frozen Zoo, the horse was cloned from pores and skin cells taken from a stallion in 1980 and cryogenically safeguarded.

Now 3 years outdated, scientists hope Kurt can quickly begin serving to to additional safeguard his species by becoming a member of the herd of Przewalski’s horses on the park as a part of a conservation and breeding program.

However earlier than that may occur, Kurt has to discover ways to be a wild horse. He’s spent the final 12 months doing so within the Safari Park’s Central Asia subject habitat alongside Holly, a feminine Przewalski’s who’s only a few months older.

Although not at all times simple — it consists of some kicks to the face — studying the behavioral language will assist him safe his place within the herd.

Simply final month, the world’s second cloned Przewalski’s horse, Ollie — a genetic twin of Kurt’s produced from the identical stallion’s DNA — arrived on the Safari Park, marking the primary time any endangered animal has been cloned greater than as soon as.

Ollie — named after Oliver Ryder, the alliance’s director of conservation genetics — and Kurt will ultimately be reunited on the Safari Park.

Scientists had been additionally capable of clone an endangered black-footed ferret in 2020 utilizing genetic materials from the Frozen Zoo.

However Durrant says these animals are just the start.

“It’s enormous as a result of it reveals that the know-how works, that we are able to really recreate animals from the Frozen Zoo,” she mentioned. “As soon as these cells are frozen, they’re nonetheless dwelling … However theoretically, we are able to have them for hundreds of years. So all of the genetic range that now we have, we are able to then slowly reintroduce into populations.”

Scientists are presently engaged on DNA evaluation and genome sequencing for a dozen cryo-preserved northern white rhinoceros cultures from 12 totally different animals within the Frozen Zoo after the final male of the subspecies died in 2018, leaving solely two females left in a Kenyan conservancy.

The hope is the species may very well be revived at some point.

The Frozen Zoo is a part of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Biodiversity Financial institution, which safeguards dwelling and nonliving supplies in a handful of collections.

A researcher holds seedlings in container.
Escondido, CA, October 11, 2023: Postdoctoral analysis affiliate Joe Ree holds coastal sage scrub oak seedlings within the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s Native Plant Gene Financial institution on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 in Escondido, CA. (Okay.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune) 

Additionally amongst them is the Native Plant Gene Financial institution, which is working regionally to preserve the range of San Diego County’s flora by drying and freezing seeds for long-term storage.

The conservation workforce has been working to gather numerous species of crops from the 900-acre, undeveloped biodiversity reserve that sits behind the Safari Park.

Together with seeds, scientists are additionally researching methods to domesticate crops from tissue tradition in laboratory situations away from threats they might usually face within the wild. These crops will probably be cryogenically frozen so they might at some point replenish areas which can be decimated.

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s new distinction as a world middle for biodiversity banking will assist it collaborate with a world community of companions and practice and advise different zoos in their very own such efforts.

“It’s very gratifying,” Durrant mentioned. “It highlights our work. And it lets the remainder of the conservation neighborhood know that we’re somebody that they will come to. That’s how we get this job accomplished. We will’t do it by ourselves.”

Extra vital, Durrant says the brand new international middle might emulate “Jurassic Park” scientists by serving to to carry species again from extinction — whereas additionally preserving range properly past fantasy.