Our objective is to acquire and store samples and genetic information from conservation-relevant, natural animal populations as a safeguard for their preservation, contributing to generate a modern-day Noah’s Ark. Our basic approach is to use advances in developmental and regenerative biology together with genetic relatedness to guide effective bio-banking. In particular, we will pursue bio-banking within families of genetically related species, where endangered populations can be reproduced by cloning through the transfer of cell nuclei from an endangered species into eggs from a non-endangered “anchor” species. Such species families will be identified among vulnerable species in central Africa, and biological material from the endangered populations will be secured. We anticipate that the approaches we pursue will evolve together with technical advances. For example, future efforts will likely place a greater emphasis on the acquisition and digital storage of genetic data instead of biological tissues, as well as the incorporation of precise genome manipulation and/or emerging synthetic biology technologies.
The project will be implemented as a mixed format involving theoretical instruction and project development, with active collaborations and personnel exchange between our campus base at U.W. – Madison and our central Africa location. Students will integrate learning principles relevant to early animal development, inter-species cloning, genomics and species family trees with the development of real-life bio-banking projects. On-site facilities and collaborations will allow simultaneous theoretical instruction and access to biological samples, and interactive instruction will allow students to learn new concepts, convey those to their peers and work in international teams. The location in a biodiversity hotspot will allow the practical implementation of sample acquisition to represent endangered animal populations recognized as conservation targets. Extensive international programs based at U.W. – Madison will facilitate travel and visits to the on-site location in Central Africa. We will additionally actively promote coordination with national and international databases and strive towards public transparency of our project. We envision this project will constitute a synthesis of learning and research by undergraduates in an international setting, while generating real-life solutions for biodiversity preservation.