NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Employing Science In Preserving Species

May 30, 2000

Throughout the eons, countless species of plants and animals have emerged, flourished and finally disappeared in the natural process of selection. But now, thanks to scientific innovations, it may be possible to save endangered species by a process known as cryopreservation. It entails preserving embryos, frozen, in bottles of liquid nitrogen.

Some scientists argue that because of these laboratory advances, there are no more endangered species.

Here is an example of one such effort:

  • Project Noah's Ark at Texas A&M University seeks to replenish the number of nearly extinct species.
  • It also is to be a bank for varied genes in the species we still have -- because any time a species falls below 500 breeding individuals, it loses the flexibility that allows it to survive in a changing world.
  • While the lab maintains frozen tissues from only 18 animals today, its goal is to incorporate 200 samples of embryos, sperm and cells for cloning from many more individual species in the future.

But some conservationist take issue with this approach. They argue that such preservation efforts are no substitute for saving species in the wild. They want rules to preserve habitats and protect animals from poaching.

And they suggest that artificial means of reproduction protect the animals from predators, parasites and diseases -- which leave them ill-prepared to cope if they are ever reintroduced into the wild.

Sources: Eric Dinerstein and Karen Baragona (both of the World Wildlife Fund), "Saving Cells Is No Way to Save a Species," and staff members, "The Animals in Project Noah's Ark," both in the Washington Post, May 28, 2000.


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