The aim of this programme was to develop systems and guidelines for the establishment and monitoring of European genetic resource banks for the conservation of genetic material and biodiversity. A multidisciplinary approach was taken, thus allowing many practical and theoretical aspects of genetic resource banks to be considered.
As originally planned, the project centred around the organization of workshops, where relevant issues would be discussed in detail and specific activities planned or reported. In line with this plan there were three major meetings involving all participants, at Chester (February 1994), Almeria (May 1995) and Brussels (October 1995). Two meetings on issues of specific concern to those interested in tissue and cell line banks were convened in Paris (March 1994, May 1995), and two for those specifically concerned with germplasm banks were held in London (November 1993, April 1994).
A number of relevant investigations and activities identified at the initial meetings have resulted in important collaborative studies and surveys. They are summarized below.
1. Survey of European and other centres holding cell lines and tissues from animal species. A collaboration, principally between the Museum of Natural Sciences, Madrid (Palacios) and the University of Alcala de Henares (Perez-Suarez), resulted in the distribution of more than 2000 questionaires to establish the location of tissue and cell banks, the nature of their holdings, and the species and tissues held. This showed that more than 150 centres hold animal tissues; a second and more detailed questionaire has been distributed to those centres. A directory of collections and contacts was produced and is available from Dr Palacios or Prof. Perez-Suarez.
2. A major survey of germplasm preservation technology for animal species was undertaken by members of the group. The survey, which covers spermatozoa, oocytes and embryos in mammals, birds, aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, insects and parasites, was coordinated by Prof. P. F. Watson of the Royal Veterinary College, London. The results of the survey are being used to identify new and potentially valuable research directions in this area, especially to link research priorities with future needs in biotechnology, biomedicine, agriculture and conservation and will be published in book form. This will be the first major reference devoted to genetic resource banking.
3. To demonstrate the practical validity and likely success of genetic resource banks in the conservation of biodiversity, a number of practical exercises were undertaken. Collaboration between the Éstaçcion Experimental de Zona Aridas, Almeria (Abaigar & Cano), the Institute of Zoology, London (Holt) and Marwell Zoological park (Bircher) resulted in the successful use of semen cryopreservation and artificial insemination in Dama gazelle. This technology was not previously available for this species, and a semen bank is being organized to establish a supportive link for the genetic management of reintroduced and captive livestock. A similar exercise was undertaken for Cichlid fish, an endangered group of African species, through collaboration between Chester zoo (McGregor Reid) and the Institute of Aquaculture (Rana). Techniques for semen collection and freezing in these, very small, animals have been developed and the next step will be the production of live young through in vitro fertilization. Semen collection and freezing techniques for a small primate species, the Common marmoset, were successfully developed and a collaboration between Holt and Hodges led to the first AI-derived births in any New World primate species. International transport regulations for monkey semen were found to be confusing and in need of clarification. The application of reproductive technology to the conservation and breeding of large feline species was investigated by Colenbrander and colleagues (University of Utrecht). Collaboration between Hodges and Colenbrander on the use of non-invasive endocrine monitoring for Felidae and other non-domestic species is now in progress.
4. Animal health guidelines for the collection, storage and transport of animal genetic materials, tissues and body fluids were considered in detail (Colenbrander, Kirkwood and Salvidio). The context of current European legislation was also considered. Unless many issues concerning risks of disease transmission through somatic cells, and especially through germ cells, are clarified it will be difficult for legislators and national authorities to provide clear rules concerning the import and export of these materials. International agreements which already exist are not implemented equally by different national authorities. A set of guidelines and recommendations is being prepared at present.
5. Watson and Russell investigated the disease risk factors associated with the collection, handling and storage of germplasm samples, especially spermatozoa. On the basis of experimental results which indicated the potential for bacteria and viruses to leak from plastic straws sealed with PVA powder, new guidelines for straw filling and sealing methodology are being prepared. These findings are timely with respect to recent problems with potential cross-infection of cryopreserved samples in human infertility centres.
6. Information on the distribution of mammalian species and subspecies in European zoos has been collated and compiled into a computer database file (Granjon). This is available on request.
7. Theoretical issues concerning the selection of species for genetic resource banks were considered in relation to germplasm conservation and sampling for the description of biodiversity. In relation to genetic sampling for phylogenetic analysis, Volobouev, Granjon, Salvidio and others have combined species prioritization data with the availability of mammalian and amphibian species. These findings are summarized as a document available from Prof Lattes. Species selection criteria for conservation of germplasm have been considered in detail (Bennett) in the context of preserving evolutionary potential.
8. Policies for future research needs and policies in the broad context of biotechnology, biomedicine, agriculture and conservation were discussed at the various meetings. There are clear needs for investment in aspects of germplasm cryopreservation, especially oocytes and embryos. There is also a need to develop new cryobiological approaches to semen preservation based on fundamental scientific studies of sperm membrane properties.
9. The survey of centres holding cryopreserved tissues and cells revealed the need for a coordinated approach to the dissemination of information. Many of these centres, and the nature of their collections, are known to a relatively narrow range of individuals. Perez-Suarez and his colleagues suggest that a shared network for information is needed.
10 The group studying germplasm cryopreservation has identified the need for information exchange on many aspects of cryopreservation and reproductive biology in a variety of species. A proposal to set up a coordinated European network for genetic resource banking is currently being formulated. Similarly coordinated programmes are already set up in Australia and the USA, and the European group has been formally invited to interact with these organizations.
11. The need for a coordinated approach to the preservation of germplasm from non-human primates was identified. By maintaining genetic diversity with the European captive populations in research centres and zoos, the demand for importation of wild primates would be reduced. The industrial users of primates for biomedical research are currently experiencing problems caused by inbreeding depression in their colonies, which largely survive in isolation.
Funding SchemeCON - Coordination of research actions
SO21 1JH Winchester
CH2 1LH Chester
NW1 0TU London
NW1 0TU London
28801 Alcala De Henares
FK9 4LA Stirling
3584 CL Utrecht
NW1 4RY London