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Smithsonian Cryo Initiative

For several decades, Smithsonian scientists have been collecting, managing, and storing at ultra-low temperatures frozen biomaterials, including samples of DNA, somatic cells, blood products, germ-plasm, embryos, and other animal, plant, and soil products. When properly managed, these frozen collections help advance scholarly knowledge, preserve biodiversity, and improve our understanding of biodiversity genomics, taxonomy, breeding, genetic management, and public health.

In 2007, the Smithsonian established a Pan-Smithsonian Cryo-Initiative (PSCI), a partnership between the National Zoological Park / Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, to optimize management, care, and accessibility of Smithsonian frozen scientific collections. In 2009, a biorepository at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center, a centralized storage facility of some 20 liquid nitrogen tanks and 58 electrical coolers was completed, making it the largest existing museum-based frozen storage facility. In conjunction with this investment, the National Museum of Natural History launched the Global Genome Initiative (GGI), a network of worldwide institutions dedicated to preserving genomic samples with the vision of “preserving the genomic diversity of life on Earth.”

Working together, the PSCI is defining frozen collections stewardship, leveraging the shared expertise and resources dispersed across the Smithsonian to support an integrated and efficient approach to the curation and data sharing of nearly 1 million samples from more than 18,000 species to ensure their accessibility for scientific research worldwide.    

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