Recently, much of the news surrounding biobanking has focused on precision medication, prominent medical trials, and expanding facilities. But while these developments are extremely important, especially when it comes to the use of freezer software and sample tracking technology to yield important medical discoveries, this is not the only use these facilities have. Instead, biobanks can also be used to further environmental research and more. For that reason, an Australian museum is currently in the process of creating a biobank for a decidedly non-human cause.
In late 2015, Museum Victoria in Melbourne plans to open a biobank to store embryos, eggs and sperm from some of Australia’s most endangered animals. Set to open at an existing campus in the suburb of Carlton, the facility will be the country’s biggest wildlife biobank, an important step in their plan to store and care for the area’s natural heritage.
Thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Ian Potter Foundation, Museum Victoria plans to install new “super cold” freezer software to store their sample collection. Currently composed of more than 40,000 specimens gathered over 160 years, the museum was previously limited to skin, fur and feather samples, which are stored at -112 degrees Fahrenheit. Thanks to the new freezer software, which stores reproductive tissue samples in liquid nitrogen, the genetic material will be stored -238 degrees Fahrenheit. This will keep the samples viable for more than 50 years.
Sadly, this type of preservation will likely be necessary, as Australia has one of the worst extinction rates in the world. Since the days of the country’s European settlement, more than 20 birds and 20 mammals have been lost, and experts say that still more could disappear in the next two decades. Storing reproductive samples therefore allows the museum to safeguard against the loss of Australia’s natural legacy.
While not the nation’s first animal biobank, the sizable resource is expected to offer greater security for a larger number of samples. This could potentially create new opportunities for scientists and conservationists to study population diversity, genetic data and more in a variety of species. Meanwhile, the biobank may also be used to help restore the population of animals like the orange bellied parrot, which currently numbers less than 50 in the wild.