The University of New Mexico’s Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB) recently expanded its cold storage capabilities with the addition of two new cryotanks boosting capacity for liquid-nitrogen storage from 270,000 to 450,000 samples, an increase of 67 percent.

The new cryotanks also allows UNM to take six ultra-cold freezers offline, saving UNM approximately $1,600 per year in electricity.

UNM’s Division of Genomic Resources (DGR) is a world-class repository for cryogenic biological materials. It holds one of the world's largest frozen tissue collections for mammals. The nitrogen repository tanks, which were hoisted into place with a crane, are designed to better protect the world-renowned collection housed as part of the MSB.

Cryogenic freezers provide a cryopreservation solution for research and clinical applications enabling storage at -150°C to -190°C temperatures. The liquid nitrogen freezers offer vapor or liquid phase storage and are the most reliable solutions for long-term cryostorage. Specimens archived in nitrogen vapor tanks will remain cold for more than three weeks in the event of a power disruption.

“This is a momentous event for our frozen tissue collections at the Museum of Southwestern Biology, Division of Genomic Resources,” said Christopher Witt, director of the UNM Museum of Southwestern Biology and professor in the Department of Biology. “The expansion of the liquid nitrogen storage capacity from 270k to 450k is a very big deal for us. It also brings us halfway to our goal of having capacity for a million samples by 2025.”

UNM’s collection allows it to be an established international research leader in biology and provides the basis for collaborations with the private sector and multimillion-dollar grants from NIH, NSF, DOD, USDA, & CDC. The MSB represents biodiversity from across the ecosystems of the Southwest but also has wide coverage worldwide. A variety of species including vertebrates and their parasites, such as fleas, ticks and helminth worms from western North America, Asia, Africa, and throughout Latin America are represented at the MSB.

This resource is essential to researchers and scientists in studies involving emerging pathogens, genomics, climate change, molecular evolution, conservation genetics, environmental informatics and stable isotope ecology. The expansion allows this frozen collection to continue to grow while continuing to add to the scientific infrastructure that provides critical sampling for many different kinds of research questions.

Additionally, the MSB is the first Arctos-partner and has made its genetic collections discoverable through the Global Genome Biodiversity Network (GGBN) as part of the 2017-2018 GGBN-GGI awards program.

“The online collection includes more than 580,000 vertebrate tissues representing mostly mammals and more than 200,000 associated specimen data,” said Katie Barker, supervisory program manager of Global Genome Initiative and Global Genome Biodiversity Network at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution. “The collection adds 100 new families, 400 new genera and 1,000 species to the GGBN Data Portal.”

“One of the most exciting things about this new expansion is that part of one of these tanks will be dedicated to storing long-term samples for the Sevilleta LTER program, under a new cooperative agreement between MSB and the Sevilleta,” said Witt.

The two tanks were funded by NSF and a State of New Mexico Capital Outlay at a total cost of $110,000. The NSF support was split between a collections improvement grant for the tissue collection (2015 grant to Joe Cook), and the Sevilleta LTER Program (P.I. Dr. Jenn Rudgers), which is beginning a new initiative to archive frozen samples at the museum once every six years to document population change over time.

“We are grateful to Joe Cook, Mike Andersen, Mariel Campbell, Jenn Rudgers, Ken Whitney, and everyone else who worked to make this happen,” added Witt.