Why Is the USDA Storing 700,000 Vials of Frozen Sperm in Colorado?

When a drive through America's heartland showcases mile after mile of cow-filled field, it's easy to overlook the most sobering of all possibilities. These wonderful delicious animals could all get wiped out one day, leaving the world burgerless and milk free. Don't worry. The USDA is on the case.

In Fort Collins, Colorado, there are currently some 700,000 "straws" of sperm from 18 different species of animals floating in liquid nitrogen in case some cataclysmic life-ending event happens. And by life-ending we're talking less giant asteroid and more terrible plague of mad cow disease. (If the asteroid hit, we'd all be goners.) The facility is part of the National Animal Germplasm Program and contains a vast array of different breeds, both common and rare. According to Modern Farmer magazine, it's possibly the largest semen repository in the world outside of China, whose collection remains a mystery to us.

The collection is ever-changing, as some farmers take out samples to revive old breeds, but the collection is diverse. From Modern Farmer:

The repository stores samples from sheep, turkeys, goats, bison, pigs, elk, chickens, fish and cows. Every straw has a story. There are 30,000 salmon milt samples, obtained from the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho. There’s rare sheep semen from Kazakhstan, near sheep’s center of domestication. There’s even a full backup of 20,000 exclusively bred cows on the Island of Jersey, progenitors for Jersey cattle all over the globe.

So cherish the animals while we've got them. But rest assured that if we run out of some of them, we can just make more. Oh, and we've got the plants covered, too. [Modern Farmer via Digg]

Image via Flickr / AWorldTourer