An endangered Preble’s meadow jumping mouse captured during a population survey. A small skin sample was collected for genome sequencing and biobanking before the mouse was released. Kika Tuff / Revive & Restore

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In a race to catalog endangered species of the U.S. before it’s too late, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week a biobanking initiative in partnership with the nonprofit Revive & Restore. The new project is the first systematic biobanking initiative for endangered species in the U.S.

The program will involve collecting live biological samples from endangered species, then creating a sort of frozen library of genetic information. The biobanking project is meant to preserve genetic diversity, provide data to inform wildlife management decisions, and help recover endangered and lost species, according to the Revive & Restore website.

“This is about creating a legacy of America’s natural history before it is lost and provides an important resource to enhance species recovery efforts now and in the future,” Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore, said in a statement.

The process starts with field biologists collecting tissue samples from wildlife, who are then released, and the tissue samples are analyzed by Revive & Restore partners. The project creates living cell lines and sends tissue samples along for cryopreservation, which will be held in a national genetic library for endangered species.

To preserve the cells, experts preserve them at temperatures of at least -256 degrees Fahrenheit, as Inside Climate News reported. Samples can then be genetically sequenced for researchers, and the frozen cell lines and tissue samples will be stored at a facility in Colorado.

There are currently over 1,700 threatened and endangered species in the U.S., but only about 14% have been cryopreserved.

“Biobanking gives us the chance to save irreplaceable genetic diversity,” Seth Willey, deputy assistant regional director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region, said in a statement. “If done right, it creates a marker-in-time and gives future recovery biologists options, like genetic rescue, that are only possible if we act now.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced 24 endangered mammals, both in the wild and in captive breeding programs, to kick off the project. These mammals will have tissue samples collected for biobanking. Some of the selected species that have already had samples collected and cryopreserved include the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), Sonoran Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis) and Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei).

Eventually, the program hopes to preserve samples from all endangered mammals in the U.S. Additionally, Revive & Restore has created a collection of resources that other field biologists can use to biobank species to help preserve biodiversity throughout the country.

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