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Scientists have cloned a Pyrenean ibex, an extinct genetically distinct subspecies of the Spanish ibex, shown here. The ibex, known for its curved horns went extinct in 2000. Scientists resurrected it with a skin sample, though it was born with a lung defect and soon died.  (Source: Jose Luis GOMEZ de FRANCISCO/
New cloning work could clear the way for resurrection of many recently extinct beasts

In the realm of commercial cloning, trickled-down technology from this cutting edge field of research has allowed firms to offer pet cloning services.  And in the realm of research, tremendous advances continue as scientists are hatching plans to resurrect extinct beasts.  Scientists have almost finished mapping the Woolly Mammoth genome, and have already injected DNA from an extinct species into a mouse.

Now arguably the greatest landmark event for the field of cloning has occurred.  Scientists have for the first time cloned an extinct animal, the Pyrenean ibex, a form of wild mountain goat.  The really spectacular thing about this cloning effort is that it was done using only DNA from skin samples. 

Technically classed as a genetically distinct subspecies of the Spanish ibex, the Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo as it is called by the locals, used to roam the mountainous hillside of northern Spain.  Known for its distinct horns, the animal was a popular target for hunters, and by the 19th century only 100 were left.  The species was not declared protected until 1973, at which time there were around 30 animals.  In 2000, the last known member of this critically endangered species was found dead on a hillside.  Researchers at the time decided to wisely preserve skin samples in liquid nitrogen.

The well-preserved skin samples proved a fruitful source for DNA.  Replicating this DNA using common genomic techniques, the researchers injected it into goat eggs, replacing the goat DNA.

While a great success, the effort also showcased the difficult road ahead for producing viable clones.  While born alive, the newborn ibex kid had defects in its lungs, similar to those found in many cloned sheep, and they proved fatal.  However, as some sheep clones have lived relatively normal lifespans, the success raises the hope of a more permanent resurrection.

Dr Jose Folch, from the Centre of Food Technology and Research of Aragon helped lead the research.  He states, "The delivered kid was genetically identical to the bucardo. In species such as bucardo, cloning is the only possibility to avoid its complete disappearance."

Professor Robert Miller, director the Medical Research Council's Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University who heads a northern white rhino cloning effort funded by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland cheered the news.  He states, "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."

The race is now on to make sure that critically endangered species' tissues are preserved for future cloning efforts.  Britain's Zoological Society of London and America's Natural History Museum have teamed up in a project called Frozen Ark.  They are in the process of storing samples from thousands of species.

While cloning a dinosaur is highly improbable due to DNA's chemical tendency to rapidly break apart to the point where it cannot be sequenced, this new breakthrough paves the way for cloning of both endangered species, and extinct species with fully sequenced genomes, such as Neanderthals or, likely soon, the Woolly Mammoth.  However, this new work also highlights the extreme challenge ahead in trying to establish a sustainable population of a cloned animal, or even clones that live to reach adulthood.

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RE: Useless
By JasonMick on 2/2/2009 8:39:27 AM , Rating: 0
"How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can't even fit inside the building?" -Derek Zoolander

But seriously... you're right, this is a major issue , one which researchers are pondering on. Obviously it would behoove a cloning effort of an endangered species to find as many dead and living specimens to extract DNA or DNA fragments from. However, genetic variety is a tremendous roadblock -- the second largest -- to creating a real-life "Jurassic Park of sorts". The largest obstacle to cloning older species is that DNA typically breaks apart very rapidly, being unrecognizable in many cases within a year, due to its tendency to undergo hydrolysis in the presence of water, breaking DNA strands and fragments into smaller and smaller pieces. (not to mention deamination of bases and other junk... thank you molecular bio)

RE: Useless
By Aloonatic on 2/2/2009 9:55:52 AM , Rating: 3
I think (yes, more guess work from yours truly) that this kind of technology will follow the same sort of arc as potential time travel.

Namely, it is only possible to go backwards from the time that the technology was created forwards :-s.

Basically, the only way that a diverse enough range of DNA samples for extinct animals will be collected is when they are collected from animals before the become extinct, who are on the verge of extinction right now, so that they can be cloned again in the future should current breeding programs fail.

If you catch my drift :-s

RE: Useless
By Schrag4 on 2/2/2009 10:17:12 AM , Rating: 2
"The building will have to be at least, 3 times bigger."

(I'm sure I botched the quote)

RE: Useless
By CascadingDarkness on 2/3/2009 12:15:26 PM , Rating: 2
...DNA typically breaks apart very rapidly...

Duh, that's why we put frog DNA in place of the missing parts.

Jez, was I the only one paying attention during the start of the tour, before everyone got eaten?

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