The U.S. National Park Service has partnered with the American Museum of Natural History to cryogenically freeze tissues from endangered species that live within U.S. national parks– eventually the new research collection will contain an estimated 1 million samples.
The effort will facilitate research that could help protect these endangered species from going extinct– or at least leave a record of their genetic makeup behind. The first specimens to enter the collection will be blood samples from California’s endangered Channel Island fox. They will be followed by genetic material from the American crocodile and the Hawaiian goose.
Project Does Not Aim to Clone Endangered Species
The Associated Press explains that “Julie Feinstein, who heads the museum’s sample collection, emphasizes that although DNA is extracted from tissue, cloning ‘is not part of our mission.’ The main goal, museum officials said, is preservation of species.”
So if cloning is not the goal, then how will studying genetic material be of help to endangered species? Most likely the DNA will be used to conduct genetic studies that help scientists to better understand the population dynamics of certain species. For instance, perhaps it would be of value to know how closely related two individual wolves are– especially if they live in different states. It might indicate how well a species or an individual population disperses.
That sounds great right? Yes, but I bet you are still wondering like me if cloning will eventually be a function of the program if too many species go extinct. Cloning has become more of a real possibility recently, especially after Japanese researchers successfully cloned mice that had been frozen for 16 years.
The DNA vault is more formally known as the Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research and has been operated by the American Museum of Natural History since 2001. So where will most of the early samples come from? Probably the national parks with the most endangered animals. According to the National Park Service the list goes as follows:
U.S. National Parks with the Most Endangered Animal Species
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area- California 29 species
- Point Reyes National Seashore– California 28 species
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park– Hawaii 24 species
- Channel Islands National Park– California 24 species
- Haleakala National Park– Hawaii 23 species
- Redwood National Park– California 21 species
- Cape Canaveral National Seashore–Florida 21 species
- Everglades National Park– Florida 18 species
- Biscayne National Park– Florida 17 species
- Natchez Trace Parkway– Mississippi 9 species
- Kaluapapa National Park– Hawaii 9 species
It’s interesting that most of the parks are near oceans. Do they have more endangered species because they have higher levels of biodiversity? Or is it because animals in ocean and island ecosystems are more vulnerable to circumstantial changes and environmental degradation? Or is it just random chance?
Any thoughts you have about the DNA vault project or the reasons why certain national parks have more endangered animals than others are appreciated in the comments section.
Photo Credit: National Park Service