Whenever an animal dies at the San Diego Zoo, researchers take a sample of the animal’s DNA, such as a bit of its eyeball or sperm and then they freeze it in liquid nitrogen. The Frozen Zoo has been active for the past 40 years and during that time it has gathered genetic information from over 10,000 individual animals, more than 1,000 subspecies and species.
The reason scientists are doing this is that one day they could use the vials to resurrect extinct animals. The interest in the Frozen Zoo project was ignited by the recent death of San Diego Safari Park’s northern white rhino. The rhino, Angalifu, was 42 and he passed away in December of last year due to cancer. With his death, the total number of northern white rhinos drops to only five. None of the rhinos in question are able to reproduce.
If nothing comes up, scientists believe that they will be able to make a white rhino in about 10 years. The project isn’t without criticism, naturally. Questions are being raised about the feasibility of the project and if it is worth investing so much time and money on bringing back a species such as the white rhino.
Senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, Paul Ehrlich, believes that the world should first focus on the cause of the issue, such as poaching and climate change. He continues:
Screwing around with science to save a white rhino might be fun and I would like to see it preserved and am all for biodiversity, but it’s so far down the list of things we should be doing first.
Another major concern about the Frozen Zoo project of cloning a northern white rhino is the long-term viability of the experiment. Sure, one or two animals can be created in the lab, but can one laboratory make a sustainable population from a genetic viewpoint?
The Frozen Zoo has had success in the past with using its stored genetic material. Frozen sperm was used in the cloning process and for artificial insemination to reproduce the giant panda. Zoos all over the world are focusing more and more on preserving wildlife species for future generation.
Image Source: ForUsToBe
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