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Scientists await birth of first cloned endangered species
WORCESTER, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Scientists say the birth of the first cloned endangered species could come any day now.
Bessie the cow will give birth early this month not to a calf, but to a wild ox called a gaur.
Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology Inc., a biotechnology company, hollowed out the nucleus of a cow's egg cell and replaced it with the nucleus from a gaur's skin cell. The nucleus contains all the genetic material needed for the gaur to grow and develop.
"This is the first time this has been done, so we have to be cautious, keep our fingers crossed," said Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology.
The gaur is an endangered species that lives in the forests and bamboo jungles of Southeast Asia and India. The species is difficult to breed in zoos, and in the wild, gaur populations are dwindling because of shrinking habitat and hunting. Research scientist Philip Damiani stresses that the clone is pure gaur --not a cross between a cow and a gaur.
It's taken hundreds of attempts to get to the point where scientists could insert the gaur embryo into Bessie, with hopes that she would carry it to term. Sometimes the clones were aborted for research, and sometimes the process was simply unsuccessful.
"We wanted to make sure things were OK before we allowed the pregnancies to go any further," Lanza said.
Researchers are confident Bessie can carry the gaur to term, since a cow like Bessie has successfully carried a test-tube gaur baby. In October, Advanced Cell Technology announced the first successful cloning of an endangered animal to late stage fetal development. At that time, the gaur's birth was projected for late November.
Using frozen cells, researchers hope to restore species that have become extinct as well as to replenish existing endangered species. The Spanish government has already approved the cloning of a newly extinct mountain goat called a bucardo.
But some researchers question the value of cloning the animals unless greater efforts are made to save their habitats.
If Bessie successfully delivers the gaur, researchers say the process could eventually lead to the development of "frozen zoos," where cells of endangered species can be stored for future regeneration.
Cloning man's best friend
Advanced Cell Technology, Inc.
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