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The Green Life: NPS Donates Endangered DNA

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July 07, 2009

NPS Donates Endangered DNA

Endangered species DNA In the basement of the American Museum of Natural History, the DNA of thousands of animals is stored cryogenically so that scientists can check out samples for their research. Today the National Park Service (NPS) finalized an agreement with the museum to contribute DNA samples of endangered species to the collection. 

“Our national parks are these wonderful protected areas that belong to everyone in the U.S. as well as the organisms in them,” said George Amato, the director of AMNH’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. “Up until now there hasn’t been a depository of these very valuable samples.”

DNA samples of endangered species can be hard to obtain because of the organisms’ protected status—even if the researcher’s intention is to help prevent the animal's or plant’s extinction. Today's agreement makes samples of endangered species available to researchers without cost.

While the liquid nitrogen-cooled vats, which maintain temperatures below -150 degrees Celsius and require special gloves to handle, might seem like something out of a science fiction movie, the need to preserve DNA of endangered species before they disappear is very real.

About 40 percent of the nation’s 1,358 threatened and endangered species live in critical habitats. And at least nine endangered species have become extinct in the last 30 years.

The American crocodile, the Channel Islands fox, and the Hawaiian goose are just a few endangered animals that the National Park Service says could benefit from the collection. Channel Islands fox blood is expected to be among the first deposits.

Said Amato, “We like to think the samples will be used for research that can help prevent the extinction of species.”

--Sarah F. Kessler

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