The Kimberley Ark genebank is a key part of Project Kimberley. Cane toads are highly toxic and as they have advanced across Northern Australia, populations of quolls, goannas and other native carnivore populations have crashed dramatically. As the cane toad has an impact species are threatened by a drastic loss of genetic diversity. So many individuals are lost that the population must start again from very low numbers. This leads to inbreeding between closely related individuals and results in population health issues and the loss of the species’ ability to respond to changes in the environment.
FAUNA Research Alliance scientists are establishing a genebank for the Kimberley species most likely to be impacted by the cane toad invasion. The actual “bank” itself is remarkably simple, all that is required is a container to store the tissues in liquid nitrogen to keep them frozen at the correct temperature. The challenges: (i) Determing how many samples are needed to store a species genetic diversity. (ii) Which tissues or cells should be collected and preserved? Sperm and eggs are the “obvious” targets… the reality check is that for the great majority of wildlife, methods have not yet been developed to enable this to occur. (iii) New technology and processes required to take the frozen material, thaw it and use it to produce a new individual.
Our scientists achieved an Australian first (second time world-wide) in 2014 when they obtained sperm samples from a lizard species. The team have also recently used frozen genetic material to produce live frog embryos – a great step forward! Currently the team are working up techniques/protocols for yellow-spotted monitors, sand monitors, heath monitors and various skink species that are at high risk of extinction. Kimberley Ark will partner with the Ian Potter Wildlife Bank at Museum Victoria as the storage facility. The race is on to get target species genetic diversity frozen in time before the cane toads destroy what diversity still exists.
Chief Investigators for this project: Simon Clulow (FAUNA RA/Newcastle University), Dr Colin McHenry (FAUNA RA/Newcastle University), Dr Sean Doody (Southeastern Louisiana University, USA) and Dr John Clulow (FAUNA RA Genome Storage Team Leader/Newcastle University)