Meet Elizabeth, America’s 1st endangered ferret clone

Researchers from different areas are constantly looking for solutions for the preservation of endangered species, and one of these actions brought to light Elizabeth Ann, a black-footed ferret born on December 10, 2020. Genetic twin of a specimen called Willa , who died in 1988 and whose cells have been stored in a cryobank for decades at San Diego’s Frozen Zoo, she is the first clone of the type created in the United States.

Elizabeth represents an important milestone in the ongoing effort to increase the diversity of pets. For a time, it was believed that the animals had, in fact, disappeared, but in 1981, a farmer in Wyoming found a group of them on their land, used thereafter in captive breeding programs.

Elizabeth Ann, first clone of a black-footed ferret.Elizabeth Ann, first clone of a black-footed ferret.Source: Reproduction

After the rediscovery, conservationists began to dedicate themselves to recovering the species. If, on the one hand, today several populations exist across the country, which, unfortunately, was not enough to remove them from the list of the most threatened mammals in the North American region, on the other hand, all ferretes of the foot -black (Mustela nigripes) descend from only seven animals.

Problems such as increased susceptibility to diseases and genetic disorders, decreased ability to adapt to nature and lower fertility rates are common to inbreeding, mating that consists of the union between related individuals. Thus, in this case, cloning has the potential to become quite an ally of the resistance of individuals exposed to the danger of a definitive end.

Unique creature

As challenging as the obstacles faced by animals and by the scientists who defend them, recovery of the species is within the reach of those who set out to alter the fate of black-footed ferrets, a five-year study by Fish concluded. and Wildlife Service (USFWS), a unit of the United States Department of the Interior dedicated to preserving wildlife. Elizabeth Ann is an important part of that game.

In 2018, the institution issued a license allowing research to clone endangered species, and the star of the day, as a genetic duplicate of Willa, is not related to the specimens found in the 1980s. In addition, it contains an abundance of unique variations compared to the living population. If it can mate and reproduce, it will bring different descendants to Earth.

Recovering species is possible, defend researchers.Recovering species is possible, defend researchers.Source: Reproduction

The achievement could boost ongoing restocking efforts, which meets the objectives of the Frozen Zoo, “created more than 40 years ago with the hope of providing solutions to the conservation challenges of the future,” explains Oliver Ryder, director of Institute. “We are delighted that we were able to create a cryobank and, years later, provide viable cell cultures for this innovative project.”

Elizabeth Ann and her mother are being held at the USFWS National Center for Black Ferret Conservation in Colorado, where the pair will spend their entire lives, according to the statement. “Successful genetic cloning does not detract from the importance of combating threats to the species’ habitat,” ponders Noreen Walsh, director of the USFWS Mountain-Prairie Region, nonetheless.

Revive & Restore (wildlife conservation organization), ViaGen Pets & Equine (animal cloning company) and Association of Zoos and Aquariums (non-profit organization focused on conservation) were part of the experiment.

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