The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just announced the birth of a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Anne. If your first thought was whoop-de-do, take it with you. This is the world’s first cloned black-footed ferret, one of the most endangered mammals in North America.
Black-footed ferrets were considered extinct until a single colony was discovered in 1981. A breeding program was started from this colony and now thousands are roaming the wild. Elizabeth Ann, the genetic copy of a wild ferret who died in 1988, may help increase the gene pool for black-footed ferrets and create a more biologically diverse population that is disease resistant.
Elizabeth Anne was not just a successful science experiment for Revive & Restore, a nonprofit biotechnology organization that worked with the USFWS. It is part of a larger movement towards “extinction”. The company believes that advances in biotechnology will make it possible to bring back extinct species, or at least introduce proxy species that contain traits from extinct animals.
Revive & Restore is currently working with the Woolly Mammoth Revival team at Harvard to identify the genes that allowed mammoths to live in extreme cold and will transfer those genes into the DNA of Asian elephants. While this work is entirely done in laboratories at this point, there is an opportunity for future elephants to harbor woolly mammoth genes, making them more robust. There’s even a place to go when they arrive: Pleistocene Park in northeast Siberia was founded by a Russian ecologist trying to turn tundra into grassland – and he needs mammoths to hold the trees.
While the birth of a single ferret may not directly result in herds of woolly elephants trudging across vast Russian grasslands, some scientists believe this is a step in the right direction and an opportunity to bring back what the world has lost.
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