Monday, February 02, 2009

Extinct Ibex Goes Extinct

In an age of cloned livestock and pets, is it any surprise we're inching towards Michael Crichton territory? A team of researchers in Spain has succeeded in bringing back a once extinct species.

Using DNA from skin samples taken from the last known Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo - which was officially declared extinct almost 10 years ago - scientists were able to resurrect the species by somatic cell nuclear transfer to domestic goat surrogates.

Over 430 cloned embryos were created with only 57 transferred to mothers and 7 resulting pregnancies. Of these, only one pregnancy resulted in a live birth. [source] The success was short lived, however, with the newborn - and only known living example - bucardo dying shortly after birth due to lung defects putting back on the 'extinct' list.

The news has provoked mixed reactions. Many are excited by the brief success, seeing it as a small step to protecting the genetic diversity of the planet and a move to a future where wooly mammoths and flightless dodos make a comeback (the terrors of Jurassic Park notwithstanding). Others have a more sober take:
Samples of the bucardo's ear were taken in 1999 under experimental conditions and were frozen in liquid nitrogen. If it is not possible to produce healthy clones from this tissue, it is unlikely it will be possible to clone from the long-dead and degraded tissue of a mammoth frozen in Siberia for thousands of years, or a dead thylacine kept for decades in a museum.
This wasn't the first attempt to clone the Pyrenean ibex, and other groups are pursuing similar goals with endangered species such as the pygmy hippo or giant panda. But even with future success, this shouldn't be a license to have a laissez-faire attitude with the environment or its other inhabitants.


J.Garlough said...

Weird that the first time the species went extinct was January 6 2000, and the second time was January 2009.

Do you think it was their goal to have the clone born on the anniversary date?

You know, it might be a neat PR idea for the scientific community. .. Every January scientists could bring an ibex back from extinction and every November they could grow a 'stache.