Ottawa

Cryobank houses frozen Noah's Ark

The Museum of Nature has opened a special deep freeze — the first of its kind in Canada — to preserve the DNA of animals and plants.

DNA of animals, plants preserved in liquid nitrogen

Roger Bull, head of operations for the cryobank, says the preserved samples will allow researchers to study how to protect species, among other things. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

The Museum of Nature has opened a special deep freeze — the first of its kind in Canada — to preserve the DNA of animals and plants. 

The new National Biodiversity Cryobank of Canada is now the country's central repository for tissue and DNA samples, and will help support biodiversity projects in Canada and around the world.

The new National Biodiversity Cryobank of Canada is the country's central repository for tissue and DNA samples, and will help support biodiversity projects in Canada and around the world. Roger Bull, its head of operations, explained how it works. 0:57

The six storage cylinders are about 1.2 metres wide and 1.7 metres high — kind of like "overgrown Instant Pots," according to Roger Bull, the cryobank's head of operations.

Inside them, liquid nitrogen keeps the temperature at about –170 C, or about as cold as the dark side of the moon.

Remains of animals like this bald eagle are stored at room temperature nearby, but their DNA and tissues are not preserved well enough for analysis. They're better for morphological studies. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

"At this temperature, molecules in the tissue samples we'll be storing are super well preserved. All molecular movement is slowed right down, so DNA ... will be preserved in perpetuity," Bull told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"If we know that a species is at risk, we can use these samples to analyze its DNA."

The National Biodiversity Cryobank of Canada, operated by the Museum of Nature in Gatineau, Que., stores thousands of animal and plant tissue and DNA samples at –170 C. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Inside one of the cylinders are 7,000 tissue samples of vertebrates submitted by Parks Canada, including grizzly bears and Blanding's turtles.

If you want to have a look at the cryobank in person, an open house is being held Saturday, Oct. 13 inside the museum's collections facility at 1740 chemin Pink in Gatineau.

These boxes contain 7,000 tissue and DNA samples from Parks Canada. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)
Hallie Cotnam gets a peek at the country's first biodiversity cryobank opening in Gatineau. 4:28

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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