As iconic animals such as the West African lion and mountain gorilla reach the edge of extinction, scientists in Japan are working towards saving the genetics of endangered animals for future generations. A team at Kyoto University’s Institute of Laboratory Animals Graduate School of Medicine announced on Wednesday that they have created a bank that freeze-dries the sperm of imperiled species. The sperm is mixed with a special liquid that allows it to be stored at four degrees Celsius, a much higher temperature than seen in conventional methods.

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Associate professor Takehito Kaneko told that the less energy-intensive method has already been successfully tested with rats and mice without the need for heavy liquid nitrogen equipment. Viable sperm was able to be thawed and active five years later. The new technique allows sperm to be stored more easily, aiding in the preservation of endangered species. However, eggs still need to be frozen by traditional means or be inseminated after being removed from the female.

The technology currently does not have any applications for humans, but Kaneko mentioned to the AFP that the freeze-drying process could potentially be used in space to establish animal colonies on other planets. Much like seed banks, the researchers at Kyoto University are working hard towards preserving Earth’s genetic diversity from threats stemming from climate change, pollution, development, and habitat destruction.

+ Kyoto University


Images via the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Wikicommons user Carine06.