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A group of scientists have done the unthinkable and have successfully created the world's first cloned black-footed ferret.
According to the San Diego Zoo, the animal was created using DNA from another ferret that died over 30 years ago. "Elizabeth Ann" was born on Dec. 10, 2020, thanks to the frozen cells of "Willa."
The groundbreaking effort to help recover this endangered species resulted from a partnership between the US Fish and Wildlife Service, species recovery partners and scientists at Revive and Restore, ViaGen Pets and Equine, Sand Diego Zoo Global and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Just look at this ferret baby, Elizabeth Ann. She's the genetic copy of a female (named Willa) who died in the 1980s who has no living descendants. Researchers hope Elizabeth Ann's offspring will inject much needed genetic diversity into the species' ranks. pic.twitter.com/ypyw1WKlkl— Doug Main (@Douglas_Main) February 18, 2021
“Although this research is preliminary, it is the first cloning of a native endangered species in North America, and it provides a promising tool for continued efforts to conserve the black-footed ferret," said Noreen Walsh, the Director of Service's Mountain-Prairie Region.
"Maintaining and increasing wild populations and suitable habitat continues to be essential for black-footed ferret recovery and will remain a priority for the Service. Successful genetic cloning does not diminish the importance of addressing habitat-based threats to the species or the Service’s focus on addressing habitat conservation and management to recover black-footed ferrets.”
As of today, all black-footed ferrets in the wild are descended from seven individuals, resulting in challenging genetic challenges in recovering the species. Cloning is looked at as a possible way to re-establish their population.
Some people have brought up Jurassic Park etc which is understandable. But as of now we can only clone viable *cells*—not just DNA—that have been cryopreserved. Some of these cells are >50 years old. But nobody has cloned anything to my knowledge that predates cryopreservation— Doug Main (@Douglas_Main) February 19, 2021
Once thought to be completely extinct, the animals were brought back from nearly vanishing forever by the service after a Wyoming rancher discovered a small population on his land in 1981. Ferrets from this population were captured and began a captive breeding program to recover the species.
Despite the amazing accomplishment, some are comparing the cloning to "Jurassic Park."