Griffith launches Australia’s first marine wildlife cell bank

Researchers from Griffith University are looking to collect cell samples of every marine species on the planet with the launch of Australia’s first Marine Wildlife Cell Bank.

Dr Jason van de Merwe.

Australian Rivers Institute marine ecologist and eco-toxicologist Dr Jason van de Merwe said the cell bank was established to address the lack of available marine wildlife cell cultures for research purposes.

“Cell cultures are an increasingly valuable, ethical and novel tool for research into biological processes and health assessment of humans and animals,” Dr van de Merwe said.

“However, their application to understanding the biology and health of marine wildlife has been limited, largely driven by the lack of available cell cultures for these species.

“In this project, we store established cell cultures from a whole range of marine species, including whales, dolphins, dugong and even endangered species of sea turtles.”

Access to the bank is available to researchers worldwide, with frozen samples of cell cultures shipped on request.

“We want to then make these cell cultures available to researchers all over the world to increase our understanding about marine wildlife and how they are being impacted by changes to our oceans,” he said.

“Our goal is to have a cell culture from every marine species on the planet.”

The Griffith Sciences researcher said while he primarily uses cell cultures for toxicological studies, they can also be used for studies on virology, microbiology, physiology and more.

“Previously we have used cell cultures to investigate toxicity in sea turtles foraging in urban and industrialised areas like Moreton Bay and Gladstone Harbour, and nesting at Mon Repos, near sugar cane farms (see video below),” Dr van de Merwe said.

“This cell bank facilitates species-specific research, enhancing management and conservation of Australian marine wildlife and providing a platform for the international scientific community to research these often-threatened animals.”

Collaboration is required to gather the cell cultures, with Sea World providing some of the tissue samples for cell cultures currently in the bank. Dr van de Merwe is now searching for partners to bolster collection efforts.

“All cell cultures are established from a small tissue sample, about the size of a peanut,” he said.

“This can be collected from a stranded animal, an animal in captivity during routine health checks, or an animal sampled in the wild.

“We are calling for rescue and rehabilitation organisations, animal parks and other researchers working with these animals to provide tissue samples for establishment of new cell cultures.”

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