We had a wonderful opportunity to share our tissue culture and cytogenetic expertise when the Genetics Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research hosted our first Frozen Zoo Cell Culture Seminar in October 2013. Eight international scientists came to the Zoo’s Beckman Center for Conservation Research, and we provided them with information and showed them the techniques needed to establish their own Frozen Zoo-like collections. The countries they represented were Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, Mozambique, Puerto Rico, and South Africa. These scientists were all experts in their own fields of biology and conservation, but they did not have experience establishing or banking cell lines. They learned how to take and set up a biopsy, pass and freeze cell lines, harvest cells in metaphase, and how to karyotype. There were also many discussions and lots of sharing of information.
For many years, we in the Genetics Division have talked about how important it would be to help other scientists establish cell line repositories like the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo® in their own countries. We all know how important it is to save the Earth’s biodiversity, but this was a real chance to do something that could make a difference. Working with these scientists and assisting them in their goal to go back home and establish cell lines and save crucial genetic information (DNA) on their native species was great! It would be wonderful if, in the next few years, we would see cell line repositories or banks in Australia with Tasmanian devil cells frozen, or Ecuador with Galápagos tortoise cells, or maybe even in Puerto Rico with cell lines from the critically endangered Puerto Rican parrot saved.
The best part of the seminar was establishing a Frozen Zoo community, a group of scientists that now know each other and can share ideas and work together toward saving more of the planet’s biodiversity. It was sad when the week ended, but none of us will forget these new relationships or how easy it is to share the knowledge.
Suellen Charter is a research coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Cytogenetics: Adding to the Frozen Zoo.