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Museum To Store DNA Of Endangered Species

July 9, 2009

A signed agreement between the American Museum of Natural History and the U.S. National Park Service will see samples from endangered species in America’s parks added to the museum’s existing DNA collection, The Associated Press reported.

The frozen genetic materials will help experts to study and protect hundreds of species.

Blood samples from foxes in California’s Channel Islands National Park and specimens from the American crocodile and the Hawaiian goose will be among the first new submissions.

The museum’s underground laboratories will store six metal vats cooled with liquid nitrogen that are capable of storing up to 1 million frozen tissue samples.

This DNA analysis will allow the park service to better manage existing animal populations using genetic relationships among the samples to trace animals’ movements on land and estimate the sizes of their population.

Acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk said the samples would provide researchers with a uniform method to collect, analyze and store genetic material from the parks.

The Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research, which has allowed geneticists to use its samples for free since 2001, is a part owner of the lab. Researchers there will collect tissue samples from animals in the wilderness in an ongoing effort to protect Earth’s suffering biodiversity.

“The DNA samples going to the Manhattan museum are a great asset to the U.S. government’s Endangered Species Act of 1973,” Wenk said.
 
He said the act aims to restore all federally listed threatened and endangered species to the point where they are again viable, self-sustaining members of their ecological communities.

And although DNA is extracted from tissue, cloning is not part of the mission, according to Julie Feinstein, who heads the museum’s sample collection.

Museum officials have emphasized that the main goal is preservation of species.

George Amato, director of the museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, which includes the collection, called parks “our most valuable natural areas” and noted there have been many success stories in preservation efforts.

For instance, the Channel Islands National Park within San Miguel, Santa Rosa and the Santa Cruz Islands successfully established a captive breeding program for foxes because of the threat from golden eagle predation. The wild fox populations reached about 650 in 2008, which allowed conservationists to halt the captive breeding program.

The most federally listed threatened and endangered species under The National Park Service site’s umbrella include Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Redwood National and State Parks, all in California; Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park, the Haleakala National Park and Kalaupapa National Historical Park; the Canaveral National Seashore, the Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park, all in Florida; and the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.

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