FunNature & AnimalThis ferret clone is the only hope for the...

This ferret clone is the only hope for the survival of its species

The male destined to mate with the ferret clone will be carefully selected, since this union, if successful, could establish a before and after in the conservation of species.

Elizabeth Ann is a clone of a black-footed ferret ( Mustela nigripes ), whose DNA is identical to that of a ferret that died 35 years ago, and whose cells had been stored in a freezer until a couple of years ago. She was gestated in a surrogate domestic ferret. He was born on December 10, 2020, being the first successful clone of an endangered species in North America.


A hope for his kind

This species is going through a very dramatic moment . Despite being an agile predator whose favorite prey is prairie dogs, in the 1970s the widespread destruction of prairie dog colonies by ranchers, farmers and others led to a veritable population collapse. of ferrets. Not surprisingly, it was one of the first species designated for protection under the new US Endangered Species Act back in 1973. By the late 1970s, the last known colony of ferrets had disappeared and some biologists believed that the species had become extinct.

In 1981 there was a glimmer of hope. A Wyoming rancher discovered a small population living on his land and that group formed the beginning of a breeding program.

However, all of today’s black-footed ferrets are descended from the same seven individuals , resulting in a dangerously low level of genetic diversity. Elizabeth Ann will greatly increase the species’ limited genetic diversity and improve its chances of survival. And it is that with poor genetic diversity, species become more susceptible to diseases and genetic abnormalities and have poorer adaptation to environmental conditions, as well as a lower fertility rate.

Now, Elizabeth Ann has reached sexual maturity and is ready to make history, again.



In the spring of 2022, if all goes according to plan, Elizabeth Ann will mate with a carefully selected male in an effort to limit the threat they suffer from inbreeding . If it gives birth to healthy offspring, it will be the first time conservation biologists have been able to integrate cloning into an effort to save a species from extinction.

Her offspring, if she has any, will have Elizabeth Ann’s mitochondrial DNA, with traces of domestic ferret. To eliminate those traces, the males will mate with captive females, who no longer carry the domestic ferret’s mitochondrial DNA.

“Everything about Elizabeth Ann is so much bigger than the science behind it, and it’s so much bigger than helping ferrets,” says Ben Novak, black-footed ferret project leader for Revive & Restore , a nonprofit. for-profit founded in 2012 to explore how biotechnology could help endangered and extinct species. “It’s about whether biotechnology can become part of mainstream conservation.”

For now, the keepers are analyzing which ferret could be the most suitable: one that is not aggressive and has good genes, and they will select it this very month of January.

In search of the ideal ferret gentleman.

The birth of the ferret Elizabeth Ann reminds us of the historic arrival in 1996 of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from the cells of an adult animal.

Reference: DOI: 10.1126 / science.ada0073

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