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The Cold Truths of Cryogenics

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The idea of cryogenics is probably familiar to you from all of the fictional characters like Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, and Fry in Futurama freezing themselves — but did you know that’s considered cryonics, not cryogenics?

Cryonics is the belief that people and animals can be frozen and brought back to life, but so far, the technology doesn’t exist to perform that particular task successfully for humans. Cryogenics, on the other hand, is the science of low temperatures and the behavior of substances in that state. When you incorporate the study of living organisms, that’s called cryobiology, which is an investigation of how low temperatures affect living tissue.

There are many facets in the study of freezing (“cryo”), including animals. Cryopreservation, which is similar to the concept of cryonics, involves freezing animal tissues and cells. Cryogenecists are working to reduce cell damage in cryopreservation in order to make cryonics a reality with hopes for eventually being able to preserve endangered species indefinitely.

In fact, the Institute for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo has preserved 800 species so far in their Frozen Zoo. Find out more about these species and the process below.

Photo Credit: hplusmagazine.com

Justin Finch visits the cryogenics lab at the San Diego Zoo and speaks with scientists about their quest to preserve the DNA of endangered species.

Cryogenics

Learn the facts about this chilly science here.

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About the Northern White Rhinos
From The San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes

"Rhinoceroses get their name from their most famous feature: their horns. The word rhinoceros comes from the Greek rhino (nose) and ceros (horn). The five types of rhinos are the Sumatran, Javan, black, white, and Indian. Javan rhinos and Indian rhinos have only one horn, while Sumatran rhinos, black rhinos, and white rhinos have two.

What they all have in common are large heads, broad chests, thick legs, poor eyesight, excellent hearing, and a fondness for rolling in the mud. How the white rhino came to be called "white" is uncertain since it is gray. One account says that South Africa's early Boer settlers called it wijde, Dutch for "wide," which could refer to the wide lip or the size of the animal.

The Wild Animal Park has the largest crash of rhinos and the most successful captive breeding program for rhinos anywhere in the world. When the worldwide population of southern white rhinos numbered less than 2,000, a male at the Park sired 50 babies."

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About Gorillas
From The San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes

"Gorillas have always fascinated zoo visitors. They are the largest of all primates -- the group of animals that includes monkeys, lemurs, orangutans, chimpanzees, and humans. Gorillas are peaceful, family-oriented, plant-eating animals.

Gorillas have no natural enemies or predators, yet these peaceful creatures are very endangered because of humans. People hunt gorillas for food called bushmeat. Logging companies destroy gorilla habitats. Africa may seem far away, but there is something you can do to help.

When you buy wood or furniture, ask if the wood has been certified. This means the wood was taken in a way approved by forestry experts. Buying certified wood will encourage logging companies in Africa to follow wildlife laws that will help protect gorillas and other African animals."

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About the Giraffe
From The San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes

"Giraffes are the tallest land animals. A giraffe could look into a second-story window without having to stand on its tiptoes. A giraffe's 6-foot (1.8-meter) neck weighs about 600 pounds (272 kilograms). The legs of a giraffe are also 6 feet (1.8 meters) long.

For a giraffe, being tall is an advantage. Giraffes spend most of their day eating because they get just a few leaves in each bite. Their favorite leaves are from the acacia tree. Giraffes are so big that they really don't need to hide from predators. Besides humans, they are hunted only by lions and crocodiles.

Although their numbers have decreased in the past century, giraffes are not currently endangered, but listed as "lower risk" with fairly stable populations. There is one subspecies that is in trouble though. Studies show there are only about 445 Uganda giraffes ("Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi") left in the wild.

The rest of the giraffe species have not become endangered for a number of reasons. They are not feared by humans and they are not killed for any folk medicine remedies. They also do not compete for food with livestock such as sheep and cows, and they do not eat farmers' crops.

Finally, they are admired the world over for their enormous size, natural beauty, and mild nature."

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About the Tree Pangolin
From The San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes

"From the skinny, insect-seeking nose to the end of the scaled tail, the pangolin looks like an anteater from outer space. Instead of having hair or quills, the pangolin is covered with overlapping scales that feel a bit like human fingernails. They are light and thin, with sharp edges, and are attached at the base to the pangolin's thick skin.

To protect itself from predators, a pangolin curls up into a tight ball, so tight that it is almost impossible to unroll it. The scales act like a coat of armor, and the legs and tail wrap around to protect the pangolin's soft underparts. If needed, the animal can roll away from danger. Termites and ants are the main menu items for pangolins.

Pangolins have always had natural enemies, such as leopards, hyenas, and pythons. But these days, humans are taking their toll on pangolin populations. People are clearing rain forest areas for their own use and hunting pangolins for meat. Pangolin skins are used for boots and the scales are prized by some people as a way to guard against evil spirits or for rain-making ceremonies. The scales are even believed by some to have healing powers when ground into powder."

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About the California Condor
From The San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes

"California condors are vultures. Like all vultures, they feed on large dead animals like deer, cattle, and sheep, but they also eat rodents, rabbits, and even fish. They don't have a good sense of smell like turkey vultures, so they find their food mostly by their keen eyesight.

Like other scavengers, condors are part of nature's cleanup crew, and they are an important part of the ecosystem. Without them, things could get pretty messy!

Destruction of habitat, poaching, and lead poisoning almost wiped out the California condor population. In 1982, only 23 birds remained in the wild. The San Diego Zoo was given permission to begin the first captive propagation program for California condors. The program also involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, the National Audubon Society, and the Los Angeles Zoo. "

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About the Giant Panda
From The San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes

"The giant panda is a national treasure in China and is therefore protected by law. This unique bear has long been revered by the Chinese and can be found in Chinese art dating back thousands of years. For years scientists have wondered whether pandas are bears, raccoons, or in a group all their own. Through studying the genetic code (DNA) in pandas' cells, scientists have confirmed the panda's relationship with bears.

Bamboo is the most important plant in a giant panda's life. Pandas live in cold and rainy bamboo forests high in the mountains of western China. They spend at least 12 hours each day eating bamboo. Because bamboo is so low in nutrients, pandas eat as much as 84 pounds (38 kilograms) of it each day.

Today, only around 1,600 giant pandas survive on Earth. There are several reasons why pandas are endangered: Low reproductive rate, bamboo shortages, habitat destruction and hunting."

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