November 16, 2012
Brazilian Zoo Wants To Clone Animals To Preserve Endangered Species
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
After successfully cloning cows and horses, experts at the Brasilia Zoo in Brazil are hoping to begin the same process for several species of wild animals that are currently under threat.
In collaboration with Brazil's Embrapa agriculture research agency, officials have selected eight animals as potential cloning candidates: the jaguar, the black lion tamarin monkey, the bison, the bush dog, the collared anteater, the gray brocket deer, the Brazilian aardvark, and the maned wolf.
The breakthrough cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996 has opened a Pandora´s box for geneticists around the world who have been cloning threatened species over the past decade.
Critics of the practice say more effort should be done to save endangered animals and their habitats than cloning them. Even successful cloning doesn't solve one of the main problems facing threatened species, which is maintaining genetic diversity among a population.
Embrapa official and leader of the Brazilian effort, Carlos Frederico Martins, said that any clones to emerge from his team´s project would go into zoos and not the wild.
“The idea is not to use cloning as a primary conservation tool," Martins told the Associated Press.
“Let's be clear that cloning can't be a substitute for protecting endangered animals' habitats," he added. "It's a way to aid zoos [to] beef up their collections, particularly for animals that don't easily breed in captivity."
In preparation for the undertaking, researchers have gathered 400 genetic samples over the past two years from found animals that had died on Brazilian roads or in the wilderness.
After an initial training period, many expect the project to focus on its primary candidate for the initial clone, the maned wolf, which is classified as "near threatened" on the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species. The 3-foot wolf with a thick red pelt is estimated to have a total population of about 23,600 individuals, with the vast majority of them living in Brazil.
The wolf is expected to be a good candidate for interspecies cloning because the process is much easier than other species on the project´s list. First, a skin cell from the wolf would be placed into the egg of a domestic dog from which the nucleus had been removed. The modified zygote would then be implanted into the uterus of a surrogate-mother dog.
Officials say they aren´t sure when the first clone might be produced and are currently waiting for legal approval to continue the project.
Cloning any animal is a difficult endeavor, with a success rate between 5 and 7 percent. Martins said new techniques the Brazilian team expects to use could boost the success rate to about 12 percent.
Cloning expert Martha Gomez, a senior scientist at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans, applauded the Brazilian effort despite the long odds for success.
“I like the idea because I feel that it's important, but it's a really big challenge," she told the AP.
"The cloning between species can be very different. It's not going to be the same to clone a jaguar or a wolf, and cloning a tamarin is going to be even harder,” she added. "I think they can do it, but it's a very long term project, that's for sure."