Bring Back the Dodo! Brave New Strides in Animal Cloning

  • Share
  • Read Later
Giant pandas, ocelots and the Asian gaur. What do all these animals have in common? Not only have they been immortalized as stuffed animals or by schmaltzy Elton John songs in Disney movies, they also face the looming specter of extinction.

Now, thanks to the painstaking (and very "Island of Dr. Moreau") work by researchers in Massachusetts, these rare beasts may be given a new lease on life. How’s that possible? Through the wonders of cloning….

Using the skin cell from a living gaur, scientists at Advanced Cell Technology fused the genetic material for the ox-like animal with the egg of an everyday American cow. Bessie, as the bovine is known, is expected to deliver the gaur, named Noah in the next month or so. In a twist guaranteed to make bulls more than a little nervous, Noah was conceived without the help of a father; once the cow genetic material was removed from Bessie’s egg and replaced with the gaur information, the egg was artificially induced to begin dividing.

So Bessie, who will likely be a bit surprised when she gives birth, is acting as incubator for the developing clone. And if the birth is successful, there could be many other animals out there whose wombs could be drafted into the project.

Scientists emphasize the process does not herald a real-life "Jurassic Park;" there will be no dodo birds flocking with the pigeons at your local park. The cloning cells can only be obtained from living animals or recently dead specimens whose bodies have been frozen since their demise.

Bessie’s impending motherhood has raised a few hackles in a seemingly unlikely circle: Environmentalists, who’ve fought vigorously to protect the habitats of endangered species, worry that the cloning technique will lessen the public’s sense of urgency when it comes to saving, say, spotted owls or African savannas. If such cloning puts them out of business, perhpas they should rededicate themselves to raising money to create lifelike imitations of natural habitats in the giant zoos that will undoubtedly be needed to house most of these miraculous animals.