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  6. Deep freeze supports species discovery! National biodiversity cryobank opens at Canadian Museum of Nature

Deep freeze supports species discovery! National biodiversity cryobank opens at Canadian Museum of Nature

Dan Smythe © Canadian Museum of Nature


Roger Bull, Head of Cryobank Operations, removes a rack holding tissue samples from a cryobank freezer.

OTTAWA, Sept 18, 2018 - A game-changer for biodiversity research in Canada has opened at the Canadian Museum of Nature’s national research and collections facility in Gatineau, Quebec.

The National Biodiversity Cryobank of Canada is an innovative addition to the study of species diversity in Canada and globally. The Cryobank is the first of its kind in Canada with a national mandate to preserve animal and plant tissues and associated genetic material, which will support research of the country’s flora and fauna.

Scientists can use cryogenically preserved tissue samples to study a variety of biological questions, such as those related to the evolution and relationships of species, conservation management, and population dynamics. 

“The opening of this new facility is an exciting step forward for the biodiversity research community in Canada,” explains Dr. Mark Graham, Vice-President, Research and Collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature. “Our expertise in caring for collections, as well as our leadership in species discovery, will help establish the Cryobank as the leading resource in Canada for cryogenic collections that can advance our understanding of the natural world.”

The core of the Cryobank is a room housing six cylindrical freezers, cooled by liquid nitrogen, that provide a -170C storage environment. This is the optimal temperature to ensure molecules such as DNA retain their integrity and can be preserved long-term for study. Each freezer will be able to store about 31,000 samples in tiny 2-ml vials. Each vial will be labelled with the species name as well as a barcode that will encode other known data about the source specimen. More freezers can be added as the collection grows, which could allow for up to about 1 million samples overall.

The inaugural samples in the Cryobank are approximately 15,000 plant tissues from around the world, many taken from species found in the Canadian Arctic. These were collected by Canadian Museum of Nature researchers over the past two decades.

The museum has also received a donation from Parks Canada of about 7,000 tissue and DNA samples collected from monitoring studies in the 1990s, mainly from parks in Canada’s North and the western provinces. These are from mammals such as caribou, bears, bison and deer, as well as some birds and reptiles.

"We expect the collections to grow over time. Samples will come not only from our museum’s national research efforts, but also from samples donated by universities, government agencies or other scientific initiatives needing a permanent repository that is accessible for scientific study,” explains Graham.

The museum’s Cryobank is the first in Canada to use a new type of leading-edge, self-sustaining cryogenic freezer. Called the MVE Fusion Freezer, it uses soundwaves to compress helium gas that in turn cools and recondenses liquid-nitrogen coolant. This innovative technology removes the need for external tanks of liquid nitrogen, and provides an energy-efficient and highly secure cryogenic storage.   

The National Biodiversity Cryobank of Canada is an initiative of the museum’s Beaty Centre for Species Discovery. It was created with funds provided by the Ross Beaty Family, which made a $4-million philanthropic gift to the museum in February 2017.

About the Canadian Museum of Nature
The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. The museum provides evidence-based insights, inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature's past, present and future. It achieves this through scientific research, a 14.6 million specimen collection, education programs, signature and travelling exhibitions, and a dynamic web site, nature.ca.

Information for Media:
Dan Smythe
Media Relations
Canadian Museum of Nature
613.566.4781; 613.698.9253 (cell)