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Theriogenology. 2012 Nov;78(8):1666-81. doi: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2012.04.008. Epub 2012 Jun 14.

Comparative cryobiological traits and requirements for gametes and gonadal tissues collected from wildlife species.

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  • 1Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington DC and Front Royal, Virginia, USA.


A major challenge to retaining viability of frozen gametes and reproductive tissues is to understand and overcome species-specificities, especially because there is substantial diversity in cryobiological properties and requirements among cell types and tissues. Systematic studies can lead to successful post-thaw recovery, especially after determining: 1) membrane permeability to water and cryoprotectant, 2) cryoprotectant toxicity, 3) tolerance to osmotic changes, and 4) resistance to cooling and freezing temperatures. Although species-dependency ultimately dictates the ability of specific cells and tissues to survive freeze-thawing, there are commonalities between taxa that allow a protocol developed for one species to be useful information for another. This is the reason for performing comparative cryopreservation studies among diverse species. Our laboratory has compared cellular cryotolerance, especially in spermatozoa, in a diverse group of animals-from corals to elephants-for more than 30 yrs. Characterizing the biophysical traits of gametes and tissues is the most efficient way to develop successful storage and recovery protocols, but, such data are only available for a few laboratory, livestock, and fish species, with virtually all others (wild mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians) having gone unstudied. Nonetheless, when a rare animal unexpectedly dies, there is no time to understand the fundamentals of biophysics. In these emergencies, it is necessary to rely on experience and the best data from taxonomically-related species. Fortunately, there are some general similarities among most species, which, for example, allow adequate post-thaw viability. Regardless, there is a priority for more information on biophysical traits and freezing tolerance of distinctive biomaterials, especially for oocytes and gonadal tissues, and even for common, domesticated animals. Our colleague, Dr John Critser was a pioneer in cryobiology, earning that moniker because of his advocacy and devotion to understanding the differences (and similarities) among species to better store living genetic material.

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