Brazil aims to clone endangered animals

November 14, 2012

Copy and save: the maned wolf (credit: Sage Ross/Wikimedia Commons)

Conservationists in Brazil are poised to try cloning eight animals that are under pressure, including jaguars and maned wolves, New Scientist reports.

None of the targeted animals are critically endangered, but Brazil’s agricultural research agency, Embrapa, wants a headstart. Working with the Brasilia Zoological Garden, it has collected around 420 tissue samples, mostly from carcasses.

There are no plans to release cloned animals into the wild, says Embrapa’s Carlos Frederico Martins. Being clones, they would lack the genetic variability of wild populations.

“The key is foresight, to just save a little piece of skin, blood or other living cells before the genes from these individuals are lost from the planet forever.

A freezer the size of a standard refrigerator could store the genetics for all the pandas in China, or all the mountain gorillas in Africa,” says Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology in Marlborough, Massachusetts, who headed the group that produced the gaur. “If you have the genetic material you can produce sperm, for instance, and reintroduce genetic diversity whenever you want.”

Rhiannon Lloyd of the University of Portsmouth, UK, runs a facility that stores DNA of threatened and extinct species. She backs Embrapa’s plan: “Collecting from dead specimens prevents the valuable information within their cells being lost forever.”