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Brazil aims to clone wild animal species

Associated Press Modified: November 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm •  Published: November 15, 2012
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Nearly all the samples in the Embrapa team's gene library were culled from the bodies of dead animals, generally road kill brought in from the Cerrado, the vast tropical Savannah that surrounds Brasilia. Sperm, eggs and skin cells are collected from the cadavers and stored in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celsius (-321 degrees Fahrenheit), Martins said.

If officials approve a pending partnership with the city's zoo, staff there will be trained to take samples from live animals from its collection, Martins said.

"The idea is to be able to expand the gene library to include more samples and also more species under pressure," said Martins.

The cloning of animals became a reality in 1996 with the birth of the Dolly the sheep. Dolly developed a virus-induced lung disease and was euthanized at age 6 — about half the life expectancy of her breed — but she gave birth to four lambs.

Cloning remains a difficult enterprise with a success rate of about 5 percent to 7 percent. The first reported cross-species clone, a wild ox called a gaur which was born to a cow in 2001, died of dysentery two days later. Martins said new techniques might boost the Brazilian team's success rate to about 12 percent.

Martha Gomez, a senior scientist at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans, applauded the Brazilian effort but cautioned that any actual clones could be a long time off.

"I like the idea because I feel that it's important, but it's a really big challenge," said Gomez, who has used house cats and interspecies cloning to produce African wildcats.

"When you talk about cloning, you not only need the people, you need the infrastructure, the resources and the animals," she said. "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," Gomez said.

"I think they can do it, but it's a very long term project, that's for sure."