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Mosses, deep-frozen

March 6, 2010
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
The University of Freiburg in Germany has launched international resource center for research with mosses.

Moss plants are transferred to cryopreservation at the IMSC.
Credit: Image courtesy of Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

In the life sciences, the safe long-term storage of living materials such as cells or whole organisms, as well as their worldwide exchange between research groups, is becoming more and more important. The University of Freiburg now supports this free material transfer with the establishment of an international centre for research with mosses.

The rapid advancements in modern life sciences are based on the analysis and modification of single cells, organs or whole organisms. In doing so, researchers not only alter specific genes but also investigate naturally occurring varieties in mutants or explore the genetic diversity which evolution has provided us with, in so called ecotypes. Researchers then communicate their new findings internationally in scientific publications.

In order to independently validate these experiments other researchers require exactly the same living materials in their own laboratories. To promote this free exchange, more and more scientific journals demand that the cell lines and organisms described in a new publication are deposited in an international resource centre -- as live materials. The University of Freiburg, Germany, has now closed a gap within this system of decentralised resource centres with the establishment of the "International Moss Stock Center (IMSC)" on its premises.

In comparison to the widely studied seed plants, mosses have lived a shadowy existence in the laboratories of molecular biologists for a long time. This has changed in the last few years, not least due to the work of Biologist Prof. Dr. Ralf Reski and his co-workers at the University of Freiburg, so that the moss Physcomitrella patens now attracts worldwide attention as a model system for Systems Biology as well as Synthetic Biology.

Two years ago, within an international consortium, the scientists deciphered the complete moss genome and more recently they discovered a new mechanism for gene regulation with the help of so called knockout-mosses. Over 10 years ago, in a co-operation with the chemical company BASF, Reski and his co-workers developed a method to permanently store genetically modified mosses. The moss plants are deep-frozen with the help of liquid nitrogen.

"We now have many years of practical experience with the cryopreservation of mosses. Even after ten years of storage we can defrost the frozen plants and bring them back to life," says Reski. To date there have been no losses so that the researchers in Freiburg can now make their resources and know-how available to the scientific community.

The speaker of the Freiburg Initiative for Systems Biology (FRISYS), geneticist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang R. Hess, adds: "Over the past few years Physcomitrella has developed into an internationally highly regarded model system for Plant Systems Biology, which is why we welcome and support the establishment of the IMSC."

As mosses play an ever bigger role in biotechnology as producers of complex biopharmaceuticals in a process called "molecular farming," Reski stresses that "Through our cooperation with different companies we know their specific requirements. For this reason the IMSC also provides the professional storage of commercially important moss-lines, such as Master Cell Banks (MCBs)."

The IMSC is supported financially by Reski's Chair Plant Biotechnology and the Centre for Biological Signalling Studies (bioss).

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Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. "Mosses, deep-frozen." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 March 2010. <>.
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