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Semen for every species: inside the USDA's supersize livestock sperm bank

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cows (branislavpudar shutterstock)
cows (branislavpudar shutterstock)

In 2001, several million cows and sheep were slaughtered following a massive outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK. The illness' spread was eventually contained, but not before stoking international fears of a widespread livestock pandemic.

Should a more severe incident occur in the future, however, scientists will be prepared: the USDA has for more than a decade been stockpiling sperm, preserved using liquid nitrogen, from 18 different livestock species. All told, according to Modern Farmer, the agency's semen storehouse now boasts more than 700,000 samples. The intent of the storehouse is to protect both rare and common animal breeds from full-scale wipeout, and dole out semen to scientists, breeders, and farmers who need a particular strain.