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Modern Day Noahs Race to Build Wildlife Gene Bank

Date: 27-Jul-04
Country: UK
Author: Jeremy Lovell

The plan, dubbed the Frozen Ark and announced on Tuesday, will run alongside a similar project to collect seeds from endangered plants run by Britain's Royal Botanical Gardens.

"Natural catastrophes apart, the current rate of animal loss is the greatest in the history of the earth and the fate of animal species is desperate," said Phil Rainbow, Keeper of Zoology at London's Natural History Museum.

While the biblical Noah collected live specimens to repopulate the world after the flood, the modern day Noahs will instead strive to preserve their biological details for posterity.

The Arabian oryx and the Socorro dove are among the 10,000 species of animals listed by the IUCN world conservation union as being likely to vanish over the next 30 years.

Of these, some 33 species are already extinct in the wild, and nearly 1,000 are deemed to be critically endangered.

Among the first species to enter the Frozen Ark will be the yellow seahorse, mountain chicken - which is actually a frog - the Seychelles Fregate Beetle and Polynesian tree snails.

Frozen Ark, which will hold samples of DNA and tissue at minus 80 Celsius, will save their genetic material for ever and give scientists an otherwise lost opportunity to study them.

"This is not an attempt to recreate Jurassic Park, but we are going through a period of intense species loss and we don't know what effect this will have on biodiversity," said Frozen Ark's patron Crispin Tickell, a diplomat and environmentalist.

The Ark - a project with the Natural History Museum, the Zoological Society of London and Nottingham University's Institute of Genetics - will be copied at other scientific institutions in countries including Australia and the United States.

The project will collect DNA samples from mammals, birds, insects and reptiles, with priority being given to animals in danger within the next five years and those that are already extinct in the wild.

Researchers will then focus on those expected to disappear within the next few decades.

"This is a small start," said Natural History Museum Trustee Anne McLaren. "But is has taken a long time to even get here and we have to start somewhere. This is vital work."

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