New guidelines for cryoconservation of animal genetic resources now available online

Published on
February 7, 2023

Cryoconservation of genetic resources in gene banks provides one of the most powerful tools to manage genetic diversity in both the short and long term. Gene bank managers, policy-makers and other stakeholders can now benefit from the recent publication on Innovations in Cryoconservation of Animal Genetic Resources to complement and update the existing FAO Guidelines on Cryoconservation of Animal Genetic Resources. The document is intended to serve as a decision aid to the various objectives for cryoconservation and the options for its implementation.

The guidelines address recommendations regarding gene bank management, reproductive physiology and cryopreservation, genomic characterisation of stored material, data management, and utilisation of stored material in management of in vivo populations.

The production of the guidelines was coordinated by FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) in collaboration with Nordgen. Scientists of the Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands (CGN) and Wageningen Livestock Research (WLR) played a key role in the development of the new guidelines.

Managing genetic diversity through gene banking

Genetic diversity of livestock is a key resource for allowing livestock-keepers to address challenges as climate change, emerging diseases, competition for natural resources and evolving demand for animal-source foods. However, genetic diversity has been in a state of decline and this diminishing genetic diversity represents another obstacle for sustainable livestock production.

Cryoconservation of genetic resources in gene banks provides one of the most powerful tools to manage genetic diversity in both the short and long term. It provides future generations with the tools to meet the challenges ahead.

The European Union has recognised the importance of cryoconservation of animal genetic resources and the continual need for associated research. Through its Horizon 2020 research funding programme, the European Union financially supported the IMAGE project (Innovative Management of Animal Genetic Resources) with a focus on animal gene banks. Gene banking genetic resources fits within the context of the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources, which was developed and adopted by FAO Member Nations. FAO was also among the partners in the IMAGE project.

Revised and up-to-date guidelines

One of the five deliverables of IMAGE was a review of the previous guidelines and recommendation for content in a revised document. The new document addresses these recommendations, while also considering the results from other IMAGE deliverables. Since the development and release of the previous guidelines, numerous changes have taken place. Critical among these is a greater appreciation of the opportunities for actively utilising cryopreserved material to enhance management of in vivo populations, rather than as simply an 'insurance policy' to protect breeds from extinction.