Japanese scientists create a sperm bank for endangered animals that one day could be used ‘to colonise other planets’. Finbarr Toesland reports.
Scientists at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Medicine and the city’s zoo have set themselves the task of freeze drying the sperm of animals that are at risk of extinction and so far have collected samples from primates like chimpanzees, Sunda slow Loris as well as giraffes.
Takehito Kaneko, an associate professor at the university, is the man responsible for creating a procedure that incorporates a buffer solution in the freeze-drying system to safeguard the sperm whilst protecting the genetic information within the sample. Kaneko has spent 10 years developing this method. According to Kaneko, scientists can revive the sperm by simply thawing it in water gently.
The technology makes it possible to store sperm at room temperature for short periods, meaning it would be safe in the event of power failures caused by a natural disaster.
Professor Kaneko intends to collect sperm samples from other larger animals such as elephants, tigers and rhinoceros that reside in the zoo, which may also become extinct in the near future. The Tokyo zoo holds 132 species of animal on its grounds, which are all expected to be collected when this project is completed.
Although Professor Kaneko is not a medical doctor and does not know if in the future his developments can be applied for purposes related to humans he is hopeful that doctors will consider his work for other purposes. Professor Kaneko is also optimistic that at some point in the future his samples may be used to create creatures on planets other than our own.
By Finbarr Toesland