Banking Genetic Resources

DNA Barcoding for Conservation

Frozen Zoo

The carefully collected and maintained frozen tissues and cell cultures that have been banked in the Frozen Zoo® over the last thirty-seven years comprise a unique resource contributing to the description and classification of vertebrate diversity. These samples provide the basis for expanding the reference library of DNA barcodes.

DNA barcoding is increasingly acknowledged as a suitable method for identifying species from unrecognizable samples of blood, bone, meat, hair, feathers, feces, or plant material. It is also recognized as a valuable basic research tool for refining our understanding of biodiversity.

Species identification using DNA barcodes is relevant to a number of conservation needs including the ability to infer the presence of a species from droppings or unidentifiable remains, the management of captive populations of plants and animals, the repatriation of confiscated animals, and the enforcement of national and international regulations regarding the trafficking of animals and their parts.

The conservation of rare and endangered coral trees in botanical gardens has been threatened by an introduced parasitic gall wasp. To positively identify specimens being propagated to replace lost specimens and to provide a method for identifying undocumented specimens, DNA barcoding is a powerful new method.

First, though, reference barcodes from documented individuals of these tropically distributed species need to be generated.  Zoo Horticulture Plant Propagator Christy Powell and Genetics Division Research Coordinator Heidi Davis worked together to undertake this task, with partial funding support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

Over sixty specimens of coral trees in the genus Erythrina have been barcoded, and additional studies are planned to fulfill the goal of providing a DNA-based diagnostic test for identifying species of Erythrina to help botanical gardens manage rare specimens of these important trees.


Christy Powell prepares samples for analysis.


By Oliver Ryder, Ph.D., Director of Genetics and Kleberg Chair, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.