Russian University Launches DNA 'Noah's Ark'

Moscow university gets $20 million grant to cryogenically freeze cells of 'every creature that has ever lived.'

Ari Yashar,

Sand cats (illustration)
Sand cats (illustration)
Tibor Jager/Ramat Gan Safari/Flash 90

Moscow State University has launched an ambitious project to collect and cryogenically freeze the DNA of "every creature that has ever lived," in an effort it compares to the Biblical Noah's Ark aiming to make a backup of life on earth - in case it ever becomes needed.

The university bagged a 1 billion ruble ($19.6 million) grant - the largest-ever scientific grant in Russia - to advanced the effort that is to be completed in 2018 and housed on campus in a 430 square kilometer site, reports the British Daily Mail.

Viktor Sadivnichy, the university's rector explained the project "will involve the creation of a depository - a databank for the storing of every living thing on earth, including not only living, but disappearing and distinct organisms."

"It will also contain information systems. If it's realized, this will be a leap in Russian history as the first nation to create an actual Noah's Ark of sorts," continued Sadivnichy, noting the DNA to be stored is reproducible.

While it may aim to be the first to achieve a full database of earth's animal DNA, the project is in fact not the first trying to do so - it isn't even the first in Russia to pursue similar goals.

A storage facility established in Siberia is trying to use the remote region's thick permafrost to preserve seed and plant samples for up to 100 years. The cryogenic storage unit in Yakutsk is to hold around 1.5 million seeds, protecting important food bases and endangered plant life.

As far as animal samples, the San Diego Zoo has a cryogenic database as well in operation since 1976, which holds roughly 8,400 samples representing over 800 species.

Meanwhile Britain's Frozen Ark Project has 28,604 frozen DNA samples, of which 7,000 preserve species on the "red list" of endangered animals.