Conserving livestock biodiversity
National Genetic CryoBank

 For long-term preservation of livestock genetic resource assets

In addition to on-farm preservation of endangered breeds, conserving genetic material into the long-term at very low temperatures also contributes to preserving the biodiversity of French national ruminant species and breeds. In this way, cryoconservation serves as a tool making it possible to prevent breeds in danger of extinction from disappearing entirely and to preserve the national genetic heritage of rare or remarkable animals.

Since the 1980s, various actors of the agriculture sector (breeders associations, AI centres, technical or research institutes, etc.) have been collecting cold-preserved biological materials. The creation of the National CryoBank in 1999 allowed such initiatives to be pooled, and made it possible to rationalize existing collections, extend them to other species and breeds, and of course to add an extra level of security.

 Nine animal species targeted

The French National CryoBank contributes to the world-wide trend to implement genetic heritage collections. Its ultimate goal is to ensure preservation into the very-long-term of the genetic diversity of all livestock species: 3 ruminant species (cattle, sheep and goats) as well as donkey, horse, rabbit, poultry, pig and fish species.

Two copies of this national collection are maintained for security reasons.

Semen is the main biological material preserved, but there is also a fair share of embryos and cell lines (fibroplasts). DNA and serum preservation is also set to be implemented in order to make it possible to determine the veterinary health status of any animal whose genetic material has been preserved.

The French National Cryobank is a Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique [GIS – scientific research group] that includes twelve partners who participate in selection schemes and genetic preservation programmes:

  • the Ministry for Agriculture
  • the INRA [French national institute for agronomics research]
  • the IFREMER [French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea]
  • technical institutes for the various species of interest,
  • Races de France [French breeds association],
  • UNCEIA [French national coalition of livestock and AI cooperatives],
  • and so on.

Technical leadership and executive administration are provided by the Institut de l’Elevage.

 Diversity of preserved genetic material

For each of the 11 targeted species, three types of genetic material are preserved in the National CryoBank:

  • Type-I genetic material concerns animals belonging to niche breeds that are in direct danger of going extinct.

The number of samples per race depends on the species. It is set according to the number of samples necessary to allow a breed to be entirely recreated in the worst case scenario, after 5 or 6 generations of back-crossing, while limiting in-breeding levels.

  • Type-II material concerns animals belonging to breeds governed under selection programmes (not in danger of extinction), that are not or not extensively disseminated as breed-standard stock although they have one or more outstanding traits.

A distinction is made between three categories of “original” animals: animals with outstanding yield indices or functional traits, animals with remarkable pedigrees and animals with particular genotype sets (e.g. animal carrying genes that have been eliminated through selection, such as the gene for scrapie sensitivity in sheep production, for instance)

  • Type-III genetic material which aims to preserve the genetic variations within each breed for a particular time period (mean generation interval for the breed)

These samples, which are frozen at regular intervals, bear witness to the original genetic combinations created within the breed and are available for any analysis necessary, or for selection reorientation purposes, as rendered necessary by sector developments.

 A first-class heritage collection

By the end of 2011, over 250,000 samples of genetic material from over 4,207 animals belonging to 137 different breeds had been preserved. The National CryoBank database incorporates individual data (ID, pedigree, etc.) regarding the animal from which each breed sample was taken.


Key figures

  • 11 species
  • 137 breeds
  • 250 000 genetic samples