The Frozen Ark initiative was inspired by research conducted by Prof Bryan Clarke, his wife Dr Ann Clarke and colleagues.

Originally intended to focus on the evolution biology of a land snail, their project turned into a study of extinction as they observed that around a hundred species of snails died out over the space of 15 years or so. This was caused by the introduction of two alien species of snails in a governmental plan that went disastrously wrong. Remnant Partula snails were brought back to England. A captive breeding programme at London Zoo was started and tissue samples were frozen down to preserve the DNA, so the study could continue.

Several groups of people had previously advocated the collection of frozen tissues and cells. Many museums stored animal material of various kinds and several university laboratories and zoos had collections of tissue, DNA, banks of cells and gametes, mostly used for research purposes. Despite some exceptions, many tissue collections were not in a form suitable for the long-term preservation of undamaged DNA. Of those that were storing cells, none were aimed specifically at threatened species.

Little global collaboration between the institutes involved had developed. Clearly, a single point of coordination, promoting cooperation between relevant institutions was missing. The late Professor Bryan Clarke FRS, the late Dame Ann McLaren FRS and Dr Ann Clarke decided to take on the job and became the co-founders of a project dedicated to the endangered species DNA collection and preservation.

The project was set up as a registered UK charity at the University of Nottingham which has generously supported it with offices, laboratory space, computers and bioinformatics support pro bono since its conception. A not for profit independent charity, it consists of a growing group of 22 Consortium Members, with 5 in the UK, 2 in the US, and others in in Germany, Australia, NZ, India, South Africa, Norway and Ireland. Many other countries are in the pipeline.

Discover more about the people that contributed to The Frozen Ark Project

A Brave New World: The Frozen Ark Project

An Introduction to The Frozen Ark:

What we are about:

Conservation and Cryopreservation of Biological Materials:

In the future, conservations efforts may depend on stored biological samples. The Frozen Ark supports these efforts by collecting and cataloguing the DNA, and if possible the cells or gametes, of endangered animals before they go extinct.


The Ark aims to understand how best to prepare and store samples from a very large variety of species, each with their own specific technical challenges, with the aim of making these samples available for researchers and conservationists.


Our mission is to educate society, including our colleagues in conservation and other scientific disciplines, through outreach at public events, schools, and at professional meetings. We aim to inform conservationists on the need to preserve genetic material, facilitate the development of best practice for cryopreservation, and to lobby governments on the need for a global effort in cryopreservation. The establishment of comprehensive databases will enable us to monitor the rates and diversities of species extinction as a tool to inform and lobby.

Future Proofing:

We won’t know what we’ve lost if we don’t have a record. Can we restore the beauty we have enjoyed for our children’s children? Can we find new materials, new medicine, new solutions from what Nature has already tried and tested?

You can help contribute to The Frozen Ark Project by donating with Just Giving

What we have achieved so far:

1. Successfully started a laboratory for sample preparation and storage at the University of Nottingham

2. Successfully garnered the interest and support of museums, research colleagues and zoos worldwide who are now consortium members

3. Over 700 samples stored in Nottingham including samples from the scimitar horned oryx (extinct in the wild), the Colombian spider monkey, pileated gibbon, siamang gibbon, lar gibbon, snow leopard, and Malayan tapir (all endangered).

4. A collection of honey bee samples free from the varroa mite

5. Started cataloguing the samples held in consortium member’s collections

6. Participated in a joint expedition (with the Natural History Museum and Zoological Society of London) to Vietnam for field collection of samples

7. Education – annual science days at Nottingham, training in sample preparation and storage, talks at Schools, etc.

8. Research – studies of best practice of sample preparation and storage, and standard operating procedures that can be most widely applied, database development and coordination of sample information across consortium members

Out targets for the future include:

1. Continue to support global efforts on sample collection and storage– providing local support in host countries and working with other initiatives on cryopreservation of biological materials

2. Increase the number of consortium members, and provide assistance (advice and financial) to them as needed

3. Train researchers in methods and procedures from other countries to help with their local efforts

4. Continue education – society, schools and governments

5. Continue research into new methods of sample preservation, particularly for samples where DNA extraction and/or cell storage is difficult

6. Catalogue the consortium’s collection – database coordination and development

7. Collaborate with potential stakeholders – conservation breeding efforts

What happens with the material collected by The Frozen Ark Project?

Much of The Frozen Ark sample collection of frozen material is being preserved in -80oC freezers. Cultured mammalian cells, tissue and gametes are being prepared and stored in liquid nitrogen. Other preservation methods for the long term are ultra-low freezing in pure ethanol, as dried samples on Whatman paper and as freeze dried samples. These methods are useful for countries having unreliable supplies of electricity. The double helix molecules of DNA in a single cell store the complete specifications of an entire animal. The sequence in these chains form the genetic code used by cells to specify all the characters of an animal. The DNA contained in cells and tissues is very stable when it is stored at a cold enough temperature. DNA can be copied quickly and easily, extracted from just a few cells and amplified millions of times in just a few hours.

DNA is amplified using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. This can be repeated indefinitely to ensure the immortality of a genome.
DNA is amplified using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. This can be repeated indefinitely to ensure the immortality of a genome.