In a conservation first, a cloned ferret could help save her species

1/27/2022 8:30:00 PM

A female named Elizabeth Ann could add much needed genetic diversity

By cloning a black-footed ferret that died in 1988, biologists hope to add greater genetic diversity to the existing population of this endangered species. NewsfromScience

A female named Elizabeth Ann could add much needed genetic diversity

O. gmelini isphahanicaCloning endangered species faces unique ethical questions, as well. One is whether the clone, which can hold trace DNA from its surrogate mother, is actually the same as the species that researchers are trying to save. For example, black-footed ferret clones are created using eggs from domestic ferrets, meaning they carry that species’ mitochondrial DNA, which is left in the egg after its nucleus is extracted.

A few years ago, after extensive technical and ethical reviews, federal regulators decided the potential benefits of cloning the ferrets outweighed the risks. Then, with permits in hand, Revive & Restore teamed up with firms including a pet cloning company called ViaGen Pets and a commercial ferret breeder to develop a plan that cost about $40,000 to execute. It called for creating embryos with DNA taken from Willa, the female black-footed ferret that had died in 1988.

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NewsfromScience Interesting. NewsfromScience Science is grate NewsfromScience this is an affront to God's will... these actions are disgusting! NewsfromScience Cloning's not going to save them as a species, if there's no habitable environment for them to live in. Cloning them for life in a zoo is a useless waste of resources.

NewsfromScience Good luck. I'm sure the right wing purist evangelical creationists will make a stink about this too. You watch,.... NewsfromScience Oh great, let's F with Mother Nature and natural selection. What could possibly go wrong? NewsfromScience Oh boy. NewsfromScience 🤫

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) in 2001, and the banteng ( B.asked the state's National Guard to step in.Tell a story .Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in your country.

javanicus ) in 2003. In 2015, scientists cloned a fourth endangered species, a sheep known as the Esfahan mouflon ( O. And in Oklahoma, Gov. gmelini isphahanica ). A story is far more engaging than simply running through a list of facts and providing supporting reasons to back them up. All died fairly young (the banteng lived longest, dying of injuries at age 7), and produced no offspring. The big picture: These last-ditch efforts may be necessary to keep schools physically open, but they are only "band-aid" solutions, Julia Kaufman, an education policy researcher at RAND corporation, said. In part, cloning endangered animals has proved harder than duplicating livestock or pets because breeding and husbandry practices are less developed in these species.

Conservation programs also have fewer resources than commercial enterprises, so they’re less likely to try again after an unsuccessful attempt." The reliance on parents and other teacher volunteers is amplified by a waning substitute teacher force, a large number of whom left the profession during the pandemic. Fill in the middle with as many supporting facts as possible, as well as painting a picture of what the solution looks like. Cloning endangered species faces unique ethical questions, as well. One is whether the clone, which can hold trace DNA from its surrogate mother, is actually the same as the species that researchers are trying to save. That's in part due the difficult nature of substitute teaching where "you're diving into a classroom that is generally filled with students who are in a bit of crisis right now," Kaufman said. For example, black-footed ferret clones are created using eggs from domestic ferrets, meaning they carry that species’ mitochondrial DNA, which is left in the egg after its nucleus is extracted. When you take the time to see things from your audience’s perspective, you’ll end up creating a much stronger presentation. Some conservationists have other concerns. Photo: Erin Doherty/Axios What they're saying: Myrtle Washington, a veteran substitute teacher in D.

They worry the ability to clone a rare species might undermine support for efforts to protect habitat and keep species alive in the wild. And cloning can be expensive, potentially diverting funds from other conservation activities. Public Schools, pointed to low pay, minimal benefits and the overall view of substitute teachers as reasons for the shortages. This leads to better engagement and audience buy in. “I think cloning certainly has a future for endangered species, but there are some problems,” says Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive sciences with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. For each species, “We will need to be very careful to do the basic research,” she adds. "A lot of substitute teachers did not think it was worth it, risking their lives, in this city, for $15 an hour," said Washington, who is the president of Washington Substitute Teachers United. A few years ago, after extensive technical and ethical reviews, federal regulators decided the potential benefits of cloning the ferrets outweighed the risks. For example, if you’re presenting to the C-suite, you might want to use more formal language, whereas if you’re presenting to a group of your peers, a more casual approach might resonate better.

Then, with permits in hand, Revive & Restore teamed up with firms including a pet cloning company called ViaGen Pets and a commercial ferret breeder to develop a plan that cost about $40,000 to execute. D. It called for creating embryos with DNA taken from Willa, the female black-footed ferret that had died in 1988. Deepening the gene pool By cloning a black-footed ferret that died in 1988, biologists hope to add greater genetic diversity to the existing population of this endangered species, which relies heavily on captive breeding for survival. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) that the city was raising pay for daily substitute teachers from $121. V. Altounian/ Science Even ViaGen’s lead scientist, Shawn Walker, wasn’t sure whether it would work.00 a day, but the D.

“We knew we had all the boxes checked,” he says. “But until you hear that heartbeat, you’re always a little bit skeptical, because everything was so new. substitutes say it's not enough.” In late 2020, the team implanted Willa-based embryos into three domestic ferrets and shipped them to the National Blackfooted Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado, where about two-thirds of the nation’s captive population lives. To their relief, one ferret gave birth to Elizabeth Ann on 10 December 2020. One solution, RAND's Kaufman said, is to increase training for substitutes so that they know the curriculum when they enter the classroom. “It was very exciting,” says Robyn Bortner, captive breeding manager at the facility, who was in the room when the clone was born.

But success still wasn’t a sure thing. The bottom line: "People who substitute do so because they are called to do that. The other two pregnancies failed, and Elizabeth Ann had a stillborn litter mate. And when keepers placed Elizabeth Ann with a second surrogate mother and domestic siblings, she often ended up in a dangerous spot: at the bottom of the pile of kits.C. “It was touch and go the first couple of days. … We kept an incredibly close eye on her,” Bortner recalls. "There's so many other things you could be doing.

But once Elizabeth Ann’s eyes opened about 1 month later, her black-footed ferret feistiness kicked in. Ever since, Bortner says, “She’s been healthy and everything you would hope." Go deeper:.” Now fully grown , Elizabeth Ann looks and sounds like any other black-footed ferret. She scarfs down meat and stalks and kills live hamsters. (The keepers aren’t willing to risk giving her a live prairie dog, which weighs more than she does.

) She chatters angrily at caretakers who get too close. She loves to attack and shred paper bags. And apart from her mitochondrial DNA, most of which comes from her domestic mother, genetic analysis shows she is 100% a blackfooted ferret. This spring her creators hope to mate Elizabeth Ann with a captive male. Any offspring will still have Elizabeth Ann’s mitochondrial DNA, with traces of domestic ferret.

To remove those traces, any male offspring will be paired with captive females, producing kits that no longer carry the domestic female’s mitochondrial DNA. At the San Diego Frozen Zoo, the cells of numerous endangered species are preserved in liquid nitrogen. Cloning a mammal was not yet feasible when the zoo banked cells from two black-footed ferrets in the 1980s. San Diego Zoo Global Successfully adding Willa’s genes to the black-footed ferret gene pool via Elizabeth Ann would likely “pack this huge biodiversity punch,” Novak says. Genomic analysis has found Willa’s DNA has 10 times more unique alleles than DNA from any captive-bred ferret.

That means her chromosomes will “introduce a whole new combination [of traits] and higher level of genetic variants,” Koepfli says. That should slow the ferrets’ trajectory of reproductive decline. To introduce even more genetic variation into captive-bred ferrets, ViaGen aims to create company for Elizabeth Ann. Scientists there are fine-tuning the cloning procedure to make it more efficient and will try to create the next batch of cloned ferrets in spring 2023, to align with next year’s breeding season. The successful use of cloning in ferret conservation is likely to attract attention—and perhaps funding—for similar efforts in other endangered species.

But replicating it won’t be easy. In part, that’s because species that might benefit from cloning have to meet numerous criteria. The best candidates, for example, have both banked genetic material at the ready and a less endangered close relative that can act as a surrogate. It also helps to have funding and captive breeding infrastructure in place. Few programs can meet these prerequisites—yet.

Another obstacle is that, although the basic cloning process is the same for all mammals, the technology has worked better in some species than others, and “no one knows why,” Durrant says. To increase the odds of success, researchers often must develop a unique “recipe” that addresses an animal’s reproductive quirks, says Samantha Wisely, a conservation geneticist at the University of Florida who works with the black-footed ferret program. “Reproductive technology is super–species specific.” Still, efforts to clone at least two other endangered species are underway. One is the Przewalski’s horse ( Equus ferus przewalskii ), a stocky wild horse that once roamed across Europe and Asia.

The species nearly went extinct in the mid–20th century, and all individuals alive today are descended from just 12 animals. Luckily, nearly 300 cell lines have been stashed at the Frozen Zoo, and conservationists are now trying to inject some of that lost genetic diversity into the modern population. In 2020, researchers created Kurt, the clone of a Przewalski’s horse whose cells were frozen 40 years ago. Although he was born several months before Elizabeth Ann, he still has some growing up to do before he’ll be ready to breed. Kurt could be joined by cloned siblings by spring of 2023.

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is also in the preliminary stages of trying to clone the northern white rhino ( Ceratotherium simum cottoni ), the most endangered of several rhino subspecies. Just two living northern white rhinos remain, and neither is capable of giving birth. As a first step, scientists are working on techniques to incorporate the northern white rhino genome into egg cells of a close relative, the southern white rhino ( C. simum simum ). And once the team hones its techniques, “We certainly hope we can apply them to the black rhino, the Sumatran rhino, and maybe the Javan rhino,” Durrant says.

Some researchers are looking beyond cloning, to other genetic technologies that might help endangered species. Birds, for example, can’t be cloned, but Revive & Restore recently formed a research consortium to develop a technique that could fill a similar role. It involves introducing primordial germ cells from an endangered species into an embryo of a surrogate species, such as a chicken. These germ cells then migrate to the chicken’s gonads and become sex cells. So, a male domestic chicken could produce the sperm of, say, an endangered prairie chicken.

CRISPR gene-editing tools could also play a role in conservation. Editing the genome of black-footed ferrets so that they could resist sylvatic plague, for example, could be a game changer. Koepfli and collaborators are now comparing the black-footed ferret genome with that of its domestic cousin, which plague does not affect, in hopes of identifying the genetic basis of resistance. But actually genetically modifying ferrets and then setting them loose in the wild would require extensive legal and ethical deliberations. For now, Elizabeth Ann’s caregivers are simply gearing up to pick her ideal first mate.

Every male ferret in the six breeding facilities scattered across the United States and Canada is getting intense scrutiny. In part, that’s because Elizabeth Ann is likely to have just a few good breeding years, and annual litters average only three to five kits. Breeders have decided that, first and foremost, they need a proven gentleman—they can’t risk an aggressive ferret hurting their only clone. Excellent genes matter, too. (That criterion could put a male related to Scarface or Rocky in the mix, Novak muses.

) This month, they will develop a short list and make their pick. If the best fit happens to live across the country, they will fly him to Colorado. They’ll collect a semen sample, just in case they need it to artificially inseminate Elizabeth Ann. But they are hoping that once they put the two ferrets together, nature will simply take its course. About the author .