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Endangered ferret cloned for the first time

Elizabeth Ann at NBFFCC (Image Courtesy: Revive and Restore)

You have probably heard of Dolly the sheep. Now it’s time to meet Elizabeth Ann, the black-footed ferret.

US scientists have successfully cloned a highly endangered black-footed ferret for the first time using cells which were frozen more than 3 decades ago. After the original ferret ‘Willa’ died in 1988, scientists had her genetic material cryopreserved hoping to perform an experiment of this sort in the future.

The tiny clone, Elizabeth Ann was born on December 10, 2020 at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center (NBFFCC) in Colorado and her birth was announced by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Black-footed ferrets were once thought to be extinct, but in 1981 scientists found a small population to start captive breeding programs in order to recover the species. However, all ferrets are descended from just 7 individuals. The limited genetic variation has challenged the recovery of the species as they are prone to health disorders and certain infections.

But Willa was not one of those 7 founders of the population, nor she had any descendents. This means her genes are significantly different from the current ferret population. So if Elizabeth Ann mates and reproduces, she could bring the much needed genetic variation to the population.

Cloning process

Elizabeth Ann at 68 days old. (Image Courtesy: NBFFCC)

For cloning, scientists took eggs from sedated domestic ferrets and matured them. With the help of ViaGen they removed the nucleus and genetic material from these eggs with the help of pipettes and then transferred the content from Willa’s cells into each egg. After that they gave an electric charge as an activation stimulus to get them to divide. And then the embryos were implanted into domestic ferret.



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