February 1, 2009

Extinct Ibex Cloned

A Spanish mountain goat, the Pyrenean Ibex, was formally confirmed as extinct in 2000 when the last one of its kind was discovered dead.

Before the animal was found dead, scientists reserved skin samples of the animal, a kind of ibex that habituates in the mountains, in liquid nitrogen. Using the DNA from the skin samples, the scientists replaced the genetic matter in eggs from a domestic goat, to create genetic copy a female Pyrenean ibex.

This is the first occasion that an extinct mammal has been cloned.

Unfortunately, the newborn passed away quickly after birth from complications in its lungs.

Still, this opportunity has created optimism that saving endangered and extinct animals by cloning them is a viable possibility. It has also amplified the idea that resurrecting species like the woolly mammoths and dinosaurs is possible.

Dr Jose Folch led the research team with colleagues from the National Research Institute of Agriculture and Food in Madrid.

Folch said that, "The delivered kid was genetically identical to the bucardo. In species such as bucardo, cloning is the only possibility to avoid its complete disappearance."

The formerly common Ibex was declared a protected species in 1973, but by 1981 only 30 lived in the Ordesa National Park in the Aragon District of the Pyrenees. The last bucardo, a 13-year-old female named Celia, died in January 2000. Folch detained the last bucardo in 1999 and took a tissue sample for cryopreservation.

Using a technique called nuclear transfer, the researchers transplanted the DNA into eggs removed from domestic goats to generate 439 embryos. Only seven of the embryos created pregnancies, but only one goat gave birth to a bucardo, which passed away from breathing difficulties, caused from flaws in the DNA.

Despite the glitches in the cloning process, scientists hope that similar attempts will save endangered species from completely disappearing.

However, attempts to revive species like the woolly mammoths and the Dodo are burdened with problems. DNA decays as time passes and creates gaps in the genetic codes needed to produce clones.

Last year, scientists released an almost-complete genome of the woolly mammoth, creating gossip that it will be possible to synthesize the DNA.

Professor Robert Miller, director the Medical Research Council's Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University, is collaborating with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland on cloning extraordinary African mammals like the white rhino.

They established the Institute for Breeding Rare and Endangered African Mammals with the idea of employing breeding technologies to save species like the Ethiopian wolf, African wild dog and the pygmy hippo.

Millar stated that, "I think this is an exciting advance as it does show the potential of being able to regenerate extinct species. Clearly there is some way to go before it can be used effectively, but the advances in this field are such that we will see more and more solutions to the problems faced."

There are other cloning projects around the world that are saving tissue and DNA from endangered animals. The Zoological Society of London and the Natural History Museum has created the Frozen Ark project in an attempt to hold on to DNA from thousands of creatures before they disappear.


Image Caption: Spanish ibex from Sierra Nevada. Courtesy Jos© M. G³mez - Wikipedia