A minute to understanding: cryopreservation

Media coverage of cryonics, the fanciful idea that whole animals will be frozen and brought back to life in the future, has overshadowed the real applications of cryopreservation.

Cryopreservation is actually a very useful research and clinical tool. In simple terms, it involves freezing cells and tissues to super-cold temperatures, typically in liquid nitrogen at -196° C. When proper procedures are followed, cells can be frozen and thawed without the destructive crystallization of typical freezing.

Much of cryopreservation's current value is based on work done at The Jackson Laboratory through a dedicated research program. Cryopreservation of mouse eggs, sperm and embryos provides the Laboratory with a backup against catastrophic loss and genetic drift. It also spares research labs worldwide the expense of maintaining live colonies until they're needed.

The Laboratory's advances have also translated readily to human cells. Cryopreservation underlies much of the success in assisted reproduction and techniques such as in vitro fertilization. Thousands of successful births have had their genesis, one could say, in the Laboratory's cryopreservation innovations.