Chinese researchers clone Arctic wolf in ‘landmark’ conservation project – KION546

By Jessie Yeung and CNN Beijing Bureau

Researchers in China have cloned a wild arctic wolf – and they hope the controversial genetic technology can now be used to help save other endangered species as the world moves towards an extinction crisis.

On Monday, Beijing-based company Sinogene Biotechnology unveiled the wolf clone, named Maya by scientists, marking 100 days since its birth on June 10.

Maya, a gray-brown pup with a fluffy tail, is in good health, the company said. At a press conference, he showed videos of Maya playing and resting.

“After two years of strenuous efforts, the arctic wolf has been successfully cloned. This is the first such case in the world,” said Mi Jidong, general manager of the company, at the press conference, according to Chinese state media.

The Arctic wolf, also known as the white wolf or polar wolf, is a subspecies of gray wolf native to the High Arctic tundra in the Arctic Archipelago in northern Canada. Its conservation status – the measure used to determine how close a species is to extinction – is considered low risk because its arctic habitat is far enough away to evade hunters, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. But climate change is increasingly threatening its food supply, while human development like roads and pipelines are encroaching on its territory.

Sinogene launched its Arctic wolf cloning project in 2020, in collaboration with Harbin Polarland polar theme park, it said in a statement posted on the Twitter-like platform. Weibo.

To create Maya, the company used a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer – the same technique that was used to create the first-ever mammalian clone, Dolly the sheep, in 1996.

First, they used a sample of skin from the original Arctic wolf – also called Maya, introduced from Canada to Harbin Polarland – to retrieve “donor cells”, which are then injected into a female dog’s egg. and carried by a surrogate mother.

Scientists were able to create 85 of these embryos, which were transferred into the wombs of seven beagles, resulting in a healthy arctic wolf, the newly cloned Maya, according to state media.

The company said in its Weibo post that a second cloned arctic wolf is expected to be born soon.

“Cloning technology provides a good entry point for the protection of endangered wild animals, which is a great contribution to biodiversity protection,” said He Zhenming, director of the Institute of Animal Resources. laboratory of the Chinese National Institute of Food and Drug Control, in the Weibo publication.

He added that Maya’s successful cloning was a “milestone event, which is of great significance for the protection of wildlife worldwide and the restoration of endangered species,” according to the post.

Sinogene said it will also start working with the Beijing Animal Park to research more cloning technologies and applications, as well as conduct research on the conservation and breeding of rare and endangered animals. in China.

The original Maya died of old age in 2021, according to Global Times. The cloned Maya now lives with her beagle surrogate and will later be housed in Harbin Polarland, open to the public.

Extinction crisis

This is not the first time that cloning technology has been used by conservation scientists.

In Malaysia, where every Sumatran rhinoceros died, scientists hope to use frozen tissue and cells to give birth to new rhinos using surrogate mothers. And at the end of 2020, American scientists succeeded in cloning an endangered wild American polecat, once thought to be globally extinct.

Other scientists are betting on gene-editing technology instead – with a team in Australia trying to edit the cells of a marsupial to recreate its close relative, the extinct tasmanian tiger.

These efforts are increasing as scientists around the world race to save endangered species, as Earth approaches what is widely believed to be its sixth mass extinction.

There have been five mass extinction events in history, each wiping out between 70% and 95% of species of plants, animals and microorganisms. The most recent, 66 million years ago, saw the dinosaurs disappear.

This sixth mass extinction would be unique, in that it is caused by humans – who have already wiped out hundreds of species through the wildlife trade, pollution, habitat loss and human use. of toxic substances.

A 2020 study found that around a third of all plants and animals could be at risk of extinction by 2070 – and things could get worse if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly.

But many of these new conservation efforts have also sparked controversy, with questions raised about the ethical and health implications of cloning and gene editing.

In the case of Maya, a scientist told the Global Times, more research is needed to find out if cloning can lead to potential health risks. There also needs to be more established guidelines for determining the appropriate use of technology, he added – such as cloning only extinct or highly endangered species.

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