Scientists have cloned for the first time an endangered American species: the black-footed ferret duplicated from the genes of an animal that died more than 30 years ago.
Elizabeth Ann (pictured) was born on December 10 and raised at the Blackfooted Ferret Breeding Center owned by the Fish and Wildlife Service in Fort Collins, Colorado. But unlike other rodents, Elizabeth is a genetic copy of a ferret called Willa, who died in 1988.
When Willa died, the Wyoming Department of Fish and Toys sent her tissues to a “frozen zoo” run by the San Diego Zoo. It stores cells from more than 1,100 species from all over the world.
“Biotechnology and genetic data can make a difference in conservation efforts,” Ben Novak, chief scientist at Revive & Restore, a nongovernmental organization devoted to biotechnology and conservation, told the Associated Press.
The black legged ferret is a marten-like ferret that is easily recognized by its brown body, black legs, black spot on the tail and black mask. It is the only native ferret in North America, and wild prairie dogs make up more than 90 percent of their diet. However, it is threatened by disease and loss of habitat.
But even before cloning, breeding programs involving black-footed rodents in the United States were a success story. It was thought to be extinct until a dog suddenly took a dead specimen home in 1981 in Wyoming. Scientists then rounded up the remaining populations for a breeding program, which has released thousands of rodents since the 1990s.
In 2018, Chinese scientists for the first time successfully cloned two identical long-tailed macaques. Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are born through therapeutic cloning, in which the nucleus is extracted from one egg and replaced with the nucleus of another animal. A milestone, because cloning from a non-embryonic cell had never happened before.
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