ARTIS launches conservation programme for endangered camembert

– April 1, 2024

Update: The conservation programme for the endangered camembert was a joke for April Fool's. Alas! Because besides penicillium camemberti, many more microbes are endangered. In turn, these species do not appear on red lists of conservation organisations. And yet the loss of these tiny micro-organisms can have enormous consequences! For instance, they regulate the earth's climate, make half of all the oxygen in our atmosphere and are at the base of food chains.

Earlier this year, researchers at France's Université Paris-Saclay reported that the famous French cheese's survival is threatened. ARTIS decided to intervene and started a breeding programme for the camembert. A first; such a rescue attempt has never before been made for a microbe.

Camembert contains the live fungus Penicillium camemberti, which is threatened by the standardisation of fungi used in the food industry. "In fact, the fungi have been domesticated, so all camemberts have the same colour and taste," said an ARTIS-Micropia employee. "As a result, they all come from the same strain, which is bad for genetic diversity. As a result, the fungi hardly reproduce anymore."

Conservation programme

A solution to the problem, according to ARTIS, lies in setting up a studbook. European zoos have been working with international species conservation programmes (European ex-situ programmes) for more than 400 endangered animal and plant species since 1985. Through a studbook, the genetic diversity of the population is guaranteed, ensuring that the population remains healthy and grows. A species conservation programme is already standard practice for animals and plants. For microbes, this would be the very first time. 

Loss of our natural ambassadors 

"In ARTIS, all life is important, from the tiniest in ARTIS-Micropia to the largest in the ARTIS-Planetarium and everything in between. A difference between a chameleon and a camembert is irrelevant, they are both life that deserves our care and attention," ARTIS said. "We humans lose connection with our own biodiversity. That causes us to lose our natural ambassadors. The camembert is to France what the black-tailed godwit is to us.".

Saving the camembert

The plan is for ARTIS-Micropia to set up a breeding programme in its own laboratory, raising as many strains of Penicillium camemberti as possible. The fungi will then be transported to a pop-up breeding station in France. There, cheese production is started with local specialists. The new cheeses are then distributed across the region through a 'One Plan Approach'. The prognosis is that within 10 years, camembert will again be present in large numbers all over France.

ARTIS participates in 96 international species conservation programmes and is coordinator of the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), lesser mouse-deer (Trachulus Kanchil) and now the camembert (Penicillium camemberti).