The U.S. National Park Service has renewed its agreement with the American Museum of Natural History to permanently freeze biological samples collected from threatened and endangered species at the Museum’s Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research, one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of its kind.
The Monell collection now houses about 93,000 tissue samples, including more than 1,000 tissue samples submitted by the National Park Service (NPS) just in the lastyear. Some of the more noteworthy NPS additions are samples from the Channel Island fox—a once near-extinct species found only on six islands off the coast of southern
California—the bald eagle, and the Karner blue butterfly, which is drastically losing habitat in parts of the Midwest and Northeast. These frozen samples, along with the balance of the Monell collection, are available to researchers around the world for genetic and genomic research.
Under the new five-year agreement, which was signed in July 2014, NPS researchers will continue to collect tissue samples under controlled conditions using kits provided by the Museum. The documented specimens, packed in special equipment, are shipped to the Museum, where they are housed in cryogenic storage—liquid nitrogen-cooled vats at temperatures below -150 degrees Celsius. The partnership between the Museum and NPS began in 2009 and so far has resulted in the preservation of more than 2,000 tissue samples from three national parks.
With the capacity to store 1 million frozen tissue samples, the Monell collection, also known as the Ambrose Monell Cryo Collection (AMCC), is part of the Museum’s larger effort to preserve a comprehensive record of Earth’s biodiversity. Launched in 2001, this specialized collection helped develop important protocols for archiving biological specimens. For example, the facility includes an important measure of safety: in the event of an electrical failure, samples would remain super-chilled for five weeks. Major research institutions regularly reach out to the AMCC to seek advice on best practices in frozen tissue storage and data documentation. In the past year alone, staff from Denmark’s soon-to-open national tissue archive spent a week working in the Monell Collection to observe daily operations.