Our world is currently facing a massive crisis of extinction, where the populations of various wildlife species have reduced by an average of 69% since 1970. We are at risk of losing the genetic diversity that is crucial for species to adapt to the changing environment. To protect biodiversity, it is essential to preserve genetic diversity through biobanking, which is an essential element of the One Plan approach, connecting ex-situ and in-situ conservation efforts to conserve and understand biodiversity.
The newly formed Animal Biobanking for Conservation Specialist Group (ABC SG), which is a part of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, is playing a crucial role in coordinating a global initiative aimed at collecting, preserving, and exchanging genetic resources. This initiative is considered an essential aspect of present and upcoming conservation endeavors.
The establishment of this specialist group is a significant step forward in the field of conservation biobanking, as it brings together experts from various institutions and countries to share knowledge and collaborate on developing best practices. With a global network in place, conservation biobanking efforts can be better coordinated, leading to more effective management and preservation of genetic resources for future generations.
The ABC SG was founded in 2022 and is Co-Chaired by Oliver Ryder, Ph.D. (Kleberg Endowed Director of Conservation Genetics, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance) and Boripat Siriaroonrat, DVM (Maihdol University, Thailand). “The vision of the ABC SG is to create a global network for sharing information and expertise to establish facilities that cryopreserve viable cells and tissues of animals,” says Oliver Ryder. “Our ability to freeze and thaw living materials, and have them resume their function, is a milestone in the history of life. This is a remarkable step forward for conservation on a global scale.”
He further explains that preserving viable materials in a bank is fundamental to creating a significant range of conservation opportunities, especially as we advance in technologies that facilitate genetic rescue and enhance our comprehension of the earth’s biodiversity.
According to Ryder, the Group’s initial task will be to conduct a “horizon scan,” which involves identifying individuals or entities that are currently storing useful materials and identifying the species that have already been stored. This fundamental information is essential for developing an effective worldwide mechanism for gathering samples from various ecosystems and taxa.
As around 15% of endangered lands animals listed on the IUCN Red List are currently kept in zoos and aquariums worldwide, these institutions could have a pivotal role in the initial stages of documenting and conserving biodiversity through banking.
To ensure that the efforts of ABC SG are fair and inclusive, it is important to examine the biobanking landscape and identify any shortcomings in the representation of participants and stakeholders. This will help to bridge any gaps and ensure that everyone is included.
“Fostering capacity enhancement opportunities, sharing the benefits of biodiversity resources, and recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are all essential to the mission of the ABC SG,” says Ryder.
The dedication to establishing a comprehensive system that ensures equitable preservation and administration of genetic resources aligns with the broader objectives of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
The ABC SG comprises members from 22 institutions who represent over 14 nations. They have previously held meetings through virtual and physical means, such as during the Conservation Planning Specialist Group’s annual gathering in 2022 and the Southeast Asian Biobanking Network’s meeting in the same year.
The group has plans to hold another meeting before the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums annual meeting in San Diego, California, in October 2023, which will have both virtual and physical attendance options.
“We have a unique opportunity in time to collect viable materials, which are so important for understanding extinction risk, management, interventions, and for all the aspects of the One Plan approach,” adds Ryder. “Our careful attention to these efforts today is going to be invaluable in protecting biodiversity for the future.”