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Cloning An Endangered Species

In just a few weeks, history will be made in Iowa when a cow called Bessie gives birth to an animal that is in danger of disappearing from the earth. It's the latest frontier in cloning, according to Dr. Robert Lanza, who pioneered the technology.

"For the first time, one animal species has been cloned using the eggs of a surrogate mom of a different species," says Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technologies.

Bessie is carrying a clone of a gaur--an Asian ox like some that live at the Bronx zoo in New York. Scientists hope cloning may bring it back from the brink of extinction.

How it works

First, the genetic material is removed from an ordinary cow egg. It's replaced by genetic material from a gaur. An electrical current is applied which causes the cells to fuse and begin to grow into an embryo. That embryo is then implanted in a surrogate cow.

The technology could be used on many different species.

"So this paves the way towards saving for instance the giant panda the gorillas of East Africa and even extinct species such as the Bucado mountain goat," Lanza says.

This cloning technology depends on samples of living tissue but it could one day be perfected so that species long extinct could be brought back.

"It's unrealistic to think we will have the technology to clone a dinosaur or wooly mammoth any time soon. The problem with many of these efforts is the DNA is severely damaged.

Cloning can't replace conservation

Michael Novacek is in charge of the effort at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But he says cloning can't replace conservation as a way to save species.

"Just cloning one individual doesn't insure that you've got the kind of genetic variation in the population that you need to sustain it," says Novacek.

In Iowa, scientists are tracking the unborn gaur's progress by ultrasound, and they've given it a biblical name, Noah. They hope it will be the first of many endangered animals to inhabit a high-tech ark.

Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology are negotiating with the Spanish government to clone the Spanish Buccato mountain goat, which is now extinct. Scientists preserved tissue from the last Buccato mountain goat, which died in January.

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