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Wednesday, Dec. 6
The Indiana Daily Student


Scientists clone Iowa ox in hopes of saving species

Who can forget Dolly? Well, now get ready to welcome Noah, who will be the first cloned ox to enter the world.\nThe bovine surrogate mother, Bessie, is carrying the Indian bison or gaur, a fetus, at a farm near Sioux City, Iowa. If she delivers as expected next month, she will be the harbinger of a stunning new way to save endangered species.\n"This is a way to preserve unique populations of our large habitat," said Philip Damiani, a researcher for Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts and senior author and project coordinator of a study published in "Cloning."\n"We realize evolution is a natural process, but we are trying to make amends for the mistakes we have made in altering the habitat. Man's interference has been one of the reasons for the extinction of many species. We are trying to correct some mistakes," he said, while explaining the motivation behind the study.\nIn this process, the DNA from a gaur cell was fused with the DNA from one of Bessie's eggs, using a technique called, "cross species nuclear transfer," to form a gaur egg which would be accepted by Bessie's immune system. \n"The fetus genetically will be 99 percent gaur and 1 percent cow," Damiani said.\nBy this technique, developers hope to do away with captive breeding, where an animal is removed from its habitat and then used. With this new method, the researchers can now go to the animal's habitat, remove some cells and return -- leaving the animal in its own, natural environment. \nThe ACT expects the Spanish government to approve this technique for cloning the bucardo, a recently extinct Spanish goat. The last bucardo died earlier this year and was immediately frozen by researchers in Spain.\n"Cloning is not going to save all endangered species, but reintroducing some unique species and preserving the larger habitat is the aim here," Damiani said. "In a global scale, we are trying to save as many species as possible."\nStill, conservationists worry this kind of science will draw funds away from habitat protection programs already in place. \nBut biology professor Patricia Foster, whose interests are in DNA replication and recombination, said, "I don't see it being used as a way to get around funding for preservation because the technology is too delicate and too expensive to save an entire species." \nIn other words, it could be used for the preservation and introduction of certain unique birds in a larger bird family, while it is unlikely that it could ever bring a whole species of birds, on the brink of extinction, back to life.\n"This is a whole new approach that has never been tried before. It is human values being forced on animals, but if people care enough and they have the money, I say go for it," Foster said.\nIt seems Damiani does care enough. While working in Africa he became interested in endangered species. \n"In the case of the gaur, its most common predators are tigers -- few of which remain -- now the gaur, too, is near extinction, for we hunt it for its horns and capture it for sport," he said.\nAccording to the World Conservation Monitoring Center, the gaur is a "vulnerable" group. The gaur has known to inhabit evergreen and deciduous forested hills and associated grassy clearings up to 1,800 meters, eastwards from India, Nepal and Bhutan to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, southern China and the Malay Peninsula. \nOutside captivity, the conditions under which they breed, the center reports the gaur is found in isolated, remote areas. Thornback, in 1983, reported the gaur population to be 10,000, and now it has dwindled to a few hundred.\n"We have to do something," Damiani said. \nAccording to the study, although the technique could be used with cells from animals once frozen immediately after death, it can't resurrect specimens frozen for centuries whose DNA has become fragmented.\n"If there are three breeds of some species, and A dies, only B and C will continue mating; this will ruin the diversity. What this technique will do is try and preserve species A; thereby, genetics will not be lost. Our aim is to bring back genetics that dies," Damiani said.

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