AP News is reporting that America has caught up with Scotland in the clone wars. They cloned Dolly the Sheep, and now we’ve cloned an endangered black-footed ferret using DNA from Willa, an animal who died in 1988:
Black-footed ferrets are a type of weasel easily recognized by dark eye markings resembling a robber’s mask. Charismatic and nocturnal, they feed exclusively on prairie dogs while living in the midst of the rodents’ sometimes vast burrow colonies.
Even before cloning, black-footed ferrets were a conservation success story. They were thought extinct — victims of habitat loss as ranchers shot and poisoned off prairie dog colonies that made rangelands less suitable for cattle — until a ranch dog named Shep brought a dead one home in Wyoming in 1981.
Scientists gathered the remaining population for a captive breeding program that has released thousands of ferrets at dozens of sites in the western U.S., Canada and Mexico since the 1990s.
Lack of genetic diversity presents an ongoing risk. All ferrets reintroduced so far are the descendants of just seven closely related animals — genetic similarity that makes today’s ferrets potentially susceptible to intestinal parasites and diseases such as sylvatic plague.
Willa could have passed along her genes the usual way, too, but a male born to her named Cody “didn’t do his job” and her lineage died out, said [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service black-footed ferret recovery coordinator Pete] Gober.
Elizabeth Ann was born to a tame domestic ferret, which avoided putting a rare black-footed ferret at risk. Two unrelated domestic ferrets also were born by cesarian section; a second clone didn’t survive.
Elizabeth Ann and future clones of Willa will form a new line of black-footed ferrets that will remain in Fort Collins for study. There currently are no plans to release them into the wild, said Gober.
[via Mr. Clarry]