Preservation in a Petri Dish: Scientists Hope Cloning Will Save Endangered Animals

November 10th, 2012

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Philip Bethge, Nov. 8, 2012 (Photo-GalleryTranslated from the German by Paul Cohen).

Biotechnicians want to use cloning to save endangered species, but they are having only limited success. Critics say that the push toward a new era of wildlife conservation trivializes extinction and funding would be better spent on preserving animal habitats.  

A number of times each week, Martha Gómez creates new life. Today, she has set out to produce a South African black-footed cat. Using a razor-thin hollow needle under a microscope, the veterinarian injects a body cell from the endangered species into an enucleated egg cell taken from a house cat. Then she applies an electric current.

“Nine volts of alternating current for five microseconds, then 21 volts of direct current for 35 microseconds,” says Gómez. Zap! The egg cell rapidly flexes from the electric surges. It bubbles inside the cell. Then everything is calm.
“I will check in half an hour if the cells have fused properly,” says the researcher from the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans. The very next day, the cloned embryos will be implanted into the uterus of a common domestic house cat, which will serve as a surrogate mother for a foreign species.

Biotechnicians like Gómez are hoping for a new era of wildlife conservation. In a bid to save endangered species, they tear down biological barriers and create embryos that contain cell material from two different species of mammals. Iberian lynxes, tigers, Ethiopian wolves and panda bears could all soon be carried to term by related surrogate mothers, and thus saved for future generations.

“Interspecies cloning is an amazing tool to ensure that an endangered species carries on,” says Gómez. “We can’t wait until those species have disappeared.”

High Mortality Rate: … //

… aving Genetic Material for the Future

Today, for example, Olivia the cat is lying on her back on the operating table with her legs spread out. Using a scalpel, research assistant Michal Soosaar makes small incisions in the anesthetized cat’s smoothly shaved abdomen, inserting operating instruments and a miniature camera.

A monitor immediately provides a view of Olivia’s insides. Soosaar uses tiny forceps to take hold of one of her ovaries. Surgeon Earle Pope then uses a needle to puncture one of the mature follicles. A bloody liquid flows from the cat’s body through a plastic hose and into a test tube.

The liquid contains mature egg cells from Olivia. In an adjoining room, these circular cells are fished out of the liquid. Now, cell researcher Gómez takes over. Gazing through a microscope, she draws the genetic material from the egg cell and inserts a skin cell from a wildcat. As soon as the cells have merged and embryos have started to grow, they are implanted into the uterus of a surrogate mother.

“This technology is a viable way to preserve genetic material for the future,” says Gómez. It’s very difficult to collect egg cells and sperm from rare wildcats, she explains, but much easier to obtain skin samples. She goes on to explain that embryos cloned in this manner could be stored for decades in liquid nitrogen and reactivated when needed.

“By bringing cloning into the set of public policy instruments, we can protect more species, reduce economic costs of protection, or both,” writes US economist Casey Mulligan in a commentary in the New York Times. Mulligan argues that it’s now necessary to freeze the cell material of endangered species and develop technologies that will make it possible to bring the animals back to life after they have become extinct. “In some cases, it may be cheaper to save some DNA, and let a future, richer and perhaps more enthusiastic generation make its own copy of the species,” Mulligan writes.

Critics Prefer Habitat Conservation: … //

… No Limits:

But the researcher remains optimistic. She hopes that she will soon be able to transform body cells from her wildcats into pluripotent stem cells. Cells of this type could considerably simplify the cloning process because they can be used to create any type of body cell and can be easily multiplied. Other researchers have already succeeded in producing such stem cells from snow leopards and northern white rhinoceroses, which are both endangered species.

There are in fact virtually no limits to the creative experimentation of today’s biotechnicians. Chinese researchers have fused body cells from panda bears with eggs cells taken from rabbits. But the resulting embryos died shortly thereafter — in the uteruses of house cats. Meanwhile, Japanese researchers have implanted skin cells from an unborn baby sei whale in enucleated egg cells taken from cattle and pigs.

Other Japanese scientists are even trying to clone the woolly mammoth. Three years ago, cell nuclei from these hairy, tusked ice-age beasts were discovered in mammoth legs that have been frozen in the permafrost of Northeast Siberia for the past 15,000 years.

In the laboratory, a team led by geneticist Akira Iritani injected cell nuclei from the prehistoric animal into enucleated egg cells from mice. The cell constructs only survived for a few hours, but Iritani remains optimistic that an elephant surrogate mother will soon bring to term the first mammoth clone.
“From a scientific point of view it is possible,” says geneticist Gómez. But is there any point in doing it?

The 51-year-old professor hesitates briefly. “I wouldn’t do it,” she admits. “I would prefer spending all the money on those species that haven’t completely vanished from the earth.”
(full text).

Links
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Video: Human and Animal Cloning were clearly prophesied in the Glorious Quran, 28.57 min, uploaded  by QuranSearchCom, March 25, 2012;

Video: Medical Biotechnology SG Part Ic., Animal and Human Cloning and Genetic Engineering, Lecture 26, 25.56 min, uploaded by Albert Kausch, Oct. 27, 2012: Some of the same techniques described for stem cell research, have been extended and applied to animal cloning, creating part of the controversies surrounding both topics. What is cloning? Cloning an organism (as a totally different process distinguished from cloning a gene) is a process whereby all members are directly descended, asexually, from a single organism by … various ways, as we show in this section, and this demonstrates that all the information required for an organism and its development are in the a single cell. Many animals have now been cloned, including, sheep (Dolly), cattle, pigs, mice, rats, fish, dogs, cats, horses, mules, and more recently monkeys. Can humans be cloned? Probably;

Ein noch anderer Schöpfungsmythos, von HBB, 18. August 2008.

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