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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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By masher2 on 2/2/2009 10:30:19 AM , Rating: 5
Also left out is the fact that this particular creature is just a subspecies of Spanish ibex in general. In recent years, environmentalist-minded biologists have been playing the "species game" where they define trivial variations in a population as entirely separate species, so they can justify their protection under the Endangered Species Act.

There are a few hundred different breeds of dogs. All can fertilely interbreed, just as all the various Ibex species can (actually Ibex can also interbreed with goats and turs as well). Should every breed of dog be considered a separate species, entitled to legal protection?

By masher2 on 2/2/2009 1:29:50 PM , Rating: 5
a lot of dog breeds, if not most of them, are so inbred that they do not make a separate species
Why not? Genetically, a poodle varies much more from a Labrador than a Pyrenean Ibex does from a Spanish Ibex.
The old test of viability of offspring may not have been a perfect standard, but at least it was a standard. Now, we have nothing. No rules.

How much variation should be required to define a new species? Every plant and animal is genetically distinct. With these new policies taken to their logical conclusion, every time an animal dies, one can say a "species" has gone extinct.

One of the most blatant cases of species gerrymandering was the famous spotted owls debacle. In this case, even the fiction of genetic variation wasn't used. The "species" was defined by which side of a highway the owls were found on. Live on this side, and you're a California Spotted Owl, thriving and in no need of protection. Fly across the highway, and the bird instantly becomes a "Northern" Spotted Owl, in need of special protection-- protection which resulted in massive restrictions to the lumber industry.

By ayat101 on 2/2/2009 10:40:02 PM , Rating: 2
Nonsense... read up the test for new species: viability and stability, plus some breeding isolation. Inbreeding with other species is not a counterargument. That was your argument and it was wrong. Simple.

Don't know how you worked out that these two goats are less related than poodle et al... care to provide a reference?

It's a bit pointless discussing science with you, because repeatedly you make obvious mistakes (i.e. you do not know the basic accepted principles of the area you are talking about... and then when these accepted principles disagree with your OPINION you blame enviromentalists or greenpeace).

PLUS... your peanut gallery and cult of Masher on these boards downrates the posts that disagree with you. It is ridiculous that when I post the accepted scientific view I get downrated... and you get uprated for opposing science. It is downright cultist behaviour.

By masher2 on 2/2/2009 11:26:06 PM , Rating: 2
read up the test for new species: viability and stability...
This "species" was obviously neither viable nor stable. So much for that argument.

plus some breeding isolation
Any purebred breed of dog has more breeding isolation than most of the multitudinous subspecies of mountain goats.

Don't know how you worked out that these two goats are less related than poodle et al
When it takes a trained biologist and a physical exam to tell the difference between two "species", there isn't much of a difference. In fact, the only functional difference between all four of the subspecies of Capra pyrenaica is which part of the Iberian Peninsula they lived in.

It's a bit pointless discussing science with you
But you're not discussing science. You're simply tossing insults.

If you want to debate, why not try an actual fact, logical counterargument, or reasonable facsimile thereof? For starters, why not dispute my assertion that there is no reasonable criteria for differentiating between the 'Northern' Spotted Owl and the 'California' Spotted Owl? They're essentially the same bird, defined only by which side of a road they happen to be on at the time.

By lucasb on 2/3/2009 2:04:01 PM , Rating: 2
It's a bit pointless discussing science with you

Couldn't agree more. Arguing about science with Masher is useless. He's full of free market rhetoric and other (deeply) flawed ideological biases. There are only three choices: he knows next to nothing about real science, he suffers some sort of delusional disorder or he's a shill for some interest group.
You can clearly see this on his posts, blog entries and articles on climate change:
- According to him, consensus building has no place within science, yet he's eager to mention the "growth" in the number of skeptical scientists. To discover the truth you don't need a popularity contest but you would be a fool to ignore the findings and arguments from a vast number of educated, informed people coming from different backgrounds.
- Masher doesn't waste time trying to link (explicitly or implicitly) climate change to some sort of conspiracy theory (environmental fanaticism, liberal conspiracy, interest groups which may be benefited with a switch to a green economy). He has the opinion that Wikipedia put an army of "environuts" to patrol the articles on environmentalism and global warming against modification.
At the same time, every time someone shows a possible link between researchers quoted by him with a right-wing think tank, Big Oil or another organization known to attack mainstream science when their business models come under public light as being harmful to the common good (e.g., second-hand smoke) he quickly dismisses these findings as ad hominem attacks.
- There are countless examples of Masher cherry-picking whole papers or parts of them, distorting facts and presenting anecdotal evidence as unquestionable proof.
- He's quick to change his talking points when the research doesn't agree with his rethoric or when someone articulates a well-argued critique to his "articles". If warming is indeed happening, it shouldn't be a problem, since (according to his diatribe) a warmer globe is good for us (more rainfall and whatnot). If ice levels are rising, that's enough to discredit mountains of research. He ignores that a warmer climate may cause more snowfall thus leading to temporary recoveries on ice levels. He ignores that as water from melting ice enters the oceans, the concentration of salt on sea water becomes lower thus elevating the freezing point of the sea causing temporary surges on sea ice. And so on.
PLUS... your peanut gallery and cult of Masher on these boards downrates the posts that disagree with you. It is ridiculous that when I post the accepted scientific view I get downrated... and you get uprated for opposing science. It is downright cultist behaviour.

DT's readership is mostly right-wing leaning (the social phenomenon of cyber libertarians), so it's reasonable to expect a lot of cheerleaders when Masher performs some of his stunts.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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