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Scientists Cloned An American Endangered Species For The First Time

j.xseaton 19 Feb 2021

Elizabeth Ann is a black-footed ferret, which is an endangered species in the U.S. But Elizabeth Ann is a very special black-footed ferret — she is the first cloned endangered animal in the U.S. This achievement is a landmark for conservation efforts. She was born at a Fish and Wildlife Service facility in Fort Collins, Colorado, where they have a black-footed ferret breeding program.

Black-footed ferrets are one of the most endangered species in the U.S.

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In 1979, black-footed ferrets were actually declared extinct. It wasn’t until a small population was found when a rancher discovered seven black-footed ferrets on his ranch in Wyoming that they were re-instated as endangered. Since then, the group formed a breeding program to save the species. Until now, all black-footed ferrets living today were descendants of those seven ferrets.

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Elizabeth Ann was born to a surrogate mother in December.

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Elizabeth Ann’s biological mother lived over 30 years ago. Her name was Willa, and she was preserved after she passed; scientists extracted cells from Willa to create Elizabeth Ann. Because Elizabeth Ann did not descend from the Wyoming ferrets, she could add much-needed genetic diversity to the current population of black-footed ferrets.

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Species with low genetic diversity are susceptible to disease.

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Breeding programs can help to rebound a population, but without genetic diversity, it is hard for a species to become resilient.

"Genomics revealed the genetic value that Willa could bring to her species," Ryan Phelan, the executive director of Revive & Restore, which is one of the organizations involved in the conservation efforts, said in a press release. "To see her now thriving ushers in a new era for her species and for conservation-dependent species everywhere. She is a win for biodiversity and for genetic rescue."

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Elizabeth Ann will likely not be the last cloned black-footed ferret.

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Scientists will continue to clone more black-footed ferrets. Elizabeth Ann was an important step in conservation efforts, but the population has to continue to be supported.

However, the perilous state of black-footed ferrets means that Elizabeth Ann will not be released into the wild. The research team will continue to care for her in the FWS facility in Colorado. This is an important first step, but more work is still needed to safeguard this endangered species.

h/t: CNN

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