It’s a grim scenario that the world is facing right now, as scientists from around the world are joining their voices and saying that the Earth is in for its sixth mass extinction. To capture the soon to be gone diversity, there are plans for plant DNA to be frozen at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
It’s a race against time to preserve as many of the plant groups and species as possible. This movement has taken a worldwide dimension, as it is being headed by the Global Genome Initiative, which has the goal of preserving DNA from everything that has ever lived on the Earth.
And the Smithsonian may well be the best equipped, and be in a privileged geographical position to do this kind of refrigerating work on plants. The scientists there say that, in just a few months, they will be able to take hold of samples of DNA from at least half of the world’s plant families.
How will they do this? They say that they are already growing in botanic gardens all over the U.S., and the greater part of these genomes can be found around Washington, on a five-mile radius.
The sixth mass extinction of the Earth is approaching, and scientists warn that not too few of these plants are in danger. We’re looking at about 13 thousand genera carefully divided into 500 different plant families.
One of the last extinctions was that which wiped out dinosaurs, some 65 million years ago. The Smithsonian Institution’s John Kress warns that every single living thing is in danger of becoming extinct because of the degradation of their habitats, mainly because of what we humans are doing.
Another project that has similar goals to the GGI, are represented by the seed bank. The aim of these is to preserve the seeds of different plants so as to be sure that we can try to regrow some of these when and if they go extinct.
Up to now, the GGI reports that every continent has at least 25 cryo-storage facilities. The largest of these is the Smithsonian’s from Maryland, where there is room for over four million samples.
One of the bigger aims of this project is to gather genetic material from everything that makes up an ecosystem, so that the species within can be monitored more closely, and in real time.
The main thing scientists are looking at when monitoring species, is damage done by climate change.
The genomes kept in the cryo-storage facilities can remain frozen forever.
Image source: bbc.co.uk