BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Jackson Laboratory has created a new way scientists can genetically preserve mouse strains without having to ship live mice to the lab or handle all the technical logistics of storing the samples themselves.
The lab’s new sperm cryopreservation kits, which lab officials have said represent a “do-it-yourself” system, allow scientists to deep-freeze their own mouse DNA samples without having to send mice to Jackson Lab and have the lab’s staff to do it for them. The cost of the kit includes cryogenic storage at Jackson Lab’s Bar Harbor campus, either in private, protected storage or in a facility where the samples are made readily available to other nonprofit research institutions.
Joyce Peterson, spokeswoman for the lab, said Monday that one of the goals of marketing the kits is to make it easier for scientists to share the specialized mouse strains they develop with the global research community.
“We’re trying to cryopreserve strains that might otherwise be lost,” Peterson said. “We’re making it easy and cheap to do this.”
Dr. Robert Taft, director of Jackson Lab’s reproductive sciences program, said Tuesday that before the kits were developed, scientists had to ship live mice to the lab in order to have a sample of mouse sperm put into deep-freeze storage, where it could be later extracted and used to fertilize embryos. Just the cost of having Jackson Lab staff do all the work could cost between $1,800 and $2,000 per strain, and that did not include shipping costs, which could be an additional couple of hundred dollars, he said.
The cost of the kits is not cheap by many standards, but they are less expensive than prior cryopreservation methods, Taft said. Depending on a kit’s capacity, which varies from three strains to nine strains, the cost of using them to cryopreserve the mouse sperm runs between $1,000 and $1,200 per strain, which includes shipping costs.
By reducing these costs, Taft said, researchers can devote more funds — which often come from public sources — to other research functions. Developing a unique genetic strain of mouse can cost tens of thousands of dollars, he said, but the cost of the kits can reduce expenses enough to develop strains for which they might otherwise not have the money.
“What we’ve really tried to do is reduce the cost of cryopreserving strains,” Taft said.
With each kit, scientists get most all the materials they need, including a detailed list of instructions for first-time users. The one thing not included in the kits is the liquid nitrogen researchers need to deep-freeze the sperm, according to Taft. Most research institutions have their own supply, he said, and shipping the chemical can be costly and complicated.
The cost of the kits also includes quality-control measures at Jackson Lab to make sure the sperm can be used again after being frozen, he said. Not all labs offer this service, which could result in frozen sperm not being useable for fertilization, he said.
Researchers are not required to ship their preserved strains back to Jackson Lab, according to Taft, but the price of the kits is not affected if researchers decide not to use the lab’s storage capabilities.
A kit that can preserve three strains of mouse sperm costs $3,550, while those geared for six strains costs $6,625, according to information posted on the lab’s official Web site, www.jax.org. The third type of kit, which can preserve nine strains of mouse sperm, costs $9,550.
Development of the kits stems from a breakthrough in sperm cryopreservation techniques that lab officials made in 2007, according to Taft. With the improved preservation method, Jackson Lab scientists improved the success rate of fertilizing eggs with sperm that had been cryogenically frozen, especially among some genetic varieties that previously had low fertilization rates, according to lab officials.