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.
A Brave New World: The Frozen Ark Project
An Introduction to The Frozen Ark:
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