PUBLICATION National Post
DATE Mon 13 Nov 2000
Cloning: Science that might have
saved the dodo bird: Helping the doomed
In what could represent a new way to save endangered species,
scientists at a Massachusetts biotechnology company said last month that
they had cloned an endangered Asian gaur -- an ox-like animal that is
native to India and Southeast Asia -- and implanted the resulting embryo
into a cow in Iowa. The gaur is expected to be born this month.
If the birth is successful, it would represent the first cloning of
an endangered species and the first cloned animal to use another species
as a surrogate mother. Scientists say the technique could not only help
preserve endangered species but also even revive species that are
Indeed, the company, Advanced Cell Technology, of Worcester, Mass.,
said last month that it had received permission from the government of
Spain to clone the already extinct bucardo mountain goat using cells
collected from the last goat before she died earlier this year. The
company is also looking at cloning giant pandas using black bears as
surrogate mothers and frozen cells from Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, the
famous pandas at the National Zoo that died in 1999 and 1992
The technique, however, which seems right out of Jurassic Park, is
raising ethical questions. Some conservationists fear that cloning would
detract from other, less costly efforts at preservation. Some say it is
still not known if an animal raised by a different species will thrive
in the wild.
"It's more like an amusement park version of the species rather
than the wild species," said Kent Redford, director of biodiversity
analysis and co-ordination at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New
York. "We want to preserve a whole lot more than the genetic
material," he said, adding that species should be preserved in
their natural environments. "That can't be reproduced in some
Robert P. Lanza, vice-president for medical and scientific development
at Advanced Cell Technology, said cloning would help reverse damage to
wildlife habitat done by people. He called for zoos and wildlife
officials to immediately begin collecting and freezing tissue samples of
endangered species. "For a few dollars of electricity you can
preserve the genes of all the pandas in China," he said. He also
said cloning was not likely to work on long-extinct species because it
would be difficult or impossible to find intact DNA. "You're
certainly not going to be seeing dinosaurs in your yard anytime
soon," he said.
To create the gaur, scientists took a skin cell from a recently
deceased gaur and fused it with a cow's egg from which the chromosomes
-- containing the cow's genetic material -- had been removed. The DNA of
the gaur commandeered the egg, which grew into a gaur embryo. The embryo
was implanted into the womb of a cow serving as a surrogate mother. The
baby, which will be named Noah, should be an exact genetic copy of the
gaur from which the cells were obtained.
Previously, many scientists thought such cross- species cloning would
be impossible because the DNA of the cloned animal would not interact
properly with the rest of the egg cell.
The technique had failed many more times than it was
successful. Scientists created several hundred embryos but only 81
grew to the stage where they could be implanted. Some 42 were planted
into 32 cows, but only eight of the cows became pregnant.
Based on the examination of the fetuses, Lanza said the gaurs seemed
to be normal, not crosses between cows and gaurs.
PUBLICATION: The National Post
DATE: 18 October, 2000
India will try to clone nearly
Lab to be established: Wildlife
experts question wisdom of bringing back big cat
An attempt to clone the Asiatic cheetah, which vanished from India
half a century ago, is to be made by a new laboratory that aims to use
reproductive science to save endangered species.
India is to give US$1-million to the Centre for Cellular &
Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, southern India, to set up a laboratory
to develop test-tube baby methods, egg and sperm banks, and
cloning technology to preserve endangered species. Professor Lalji
Singh, the centre's director, said yesterday he hoped the technique
could produce a clone of the cheetah within a few years, although
wildlife experts expressed some reservations about the plan.
Mr. Singh has recruited a 13-strong team to use techniques similar to
those employed by Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts biotech
firm, to make a dairy cow pregnant with a gaur, a rare ox-like creature.
The U.S. company is also considering cloning pandas and an extinct
mountain goat called a bucardo. Now Mr. Singh hopes to take the genetic
code from Asiatic cheetah cells and use it to reprogram empty leopard
eggs to mass-produce cheetah embryos. Any viable embryos would then be
carried to term in leopard surrogate mothers. The last record for the cheetah in India dates to 1948, when a rajah
shot three from his car. So, Mr. Singh has requested India's Central Zoo
Authority and the External Affairs Ministry to arrange for the import of
a live animal from Iran, where just 50 remain in the wild.
The project would be undertaken by the new laboratory, which
would be set up, under the auspices of the Centre for Cellular &
Molecular Biology, at the Nehru Zoological Park nearby.
"Our laboratory will be ready in a year,'' said Mr. Singh,
who is conducting research on the genetic diversity of wild
cats. Wildlife experts are skeptical. Gajendra Singh, a
big-cat expert, said cloning is expensive and inefficient. He
questioned the wisdom of bringing back the cheetah when much of the
environment where the cat could roam freely has been lost.
Reliance on cloning may lead to complacency about the
destruction of habitats and other threats to species, added Paul Toyne,
species conservation officer of the Worldwide Fund for Nature. He
said cloning does have a role in conservation, but emphasized it is only
part of the solution. "We have to consider what were the
threats that made that species go extinct and eradicate those
problems,'' he said.
In India, where there is pressure on national parks and problems with
poaching, "one would have to question the long-term viability
of spending that money on cloning and the cost of reintroduction,'' he
said, explaining that, without parental role models, a clone would
find it difficult to learn to hunt and survive in the wild. *