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First cloned endangered species dies 2 days after birth

A gaur, an endangered Asian ox pictured here, was cloned successfully by scientists, but the baby died within 48 hours of birth  

January 12, 2001
Web posted at: 10:45 AM EST (1545 GMT)

In this story:

Saving a species from extinction

How they did it

No immediate plans to try again


WORCESTER, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The world's first cloned endangered species -- a baby Asian ox called a gaur (GOW-er) -- died of dysentery within 48 hours of birth, scientists said Friday.

It's unlikely that the dysentery was related to the cloning, the scientists said.


Noah, as the gaur was called, was born on January 8 in Iowa weighing 80 pounds. "Within 12 hours of birth, Noah was able to stand unaided and began an inquisitive search of his new surroundings," said Dr. Jonathan Hill, one of a team of scientists to monitor Noah's condition. But at one day old, Noah began to exhibit symptoms of a common infection, and succumbed to it despite our treatment efforts."

The surrogate mother, a cow named Bessie, is fine.

Saving a species from extinction

The gaur is an ox native to Southeast Asia and India, and while about 30,000 exist in the wild, their numbers are declining because of hunting and habitat loss. Scientists say the cloning of such endangered animals could save them from extinction, or even bring back species already extinct.

"The data collected clearly indicate that cross-species cloning worked and, as a scientist, I am pleased," researcher Philip Damiani said in a statement. Damiani is with Advanced Cell Technology, the biotech company that conducted the research,

"As a person, however, I am saddened that an animal died," Damiani said. "In the short period of time Noah was with us, he showed himself to be a vigorous and friendly calf. Noah is the first individual of an endangered species to be cloned and then brought successfully to term by a surrogate mother from another, more common, species -- in this case a domestic cow."

Bessie was not the first cow to give birth to a gaur. Cows have previously carried "test-tube" gaurs to term, but Bessie is the first to mother a cloned gaur.

How they did it

egg cell with test tube
To clone the gaur, scientists placed a gaur nucleus inside the egg cell of a cow  

The clone the gaur, scientists removed the nucleus from a cow's egg cell and replaced it with the nucleus of a gaur skin cell. The nucleus contains all the genetic material needed for the gaur to grow and develop.

"The chromosomes are 100 percent gaur and, of course, the chromosomes are responsible for all of our traits," Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology said before the birth.

Bessie was one of 40 cows to have a cloned gaur embryo placed in her womb. Some of the other cows miscarried; in other cases, gaur fetuses were aborted so scientists could check whether they were developmentally and genetically normal.

Critics worry the cloning of endangered species could hamper efforts to conserve biodiverse habitats by offering a sort of "silver bullet" solution to saving endangered species.

But some scientists counter cloning could be used to bolster valuable genetic diversity needed to rebuild a species when their numbers have been severely compromised. And they do not suggest cloning would be used to create large numbers of animals to completely repopulate a depleted species.

"When you get down to a few dozen members of a species you're really talking about very serious problems," Lanza said. "So this is a tool. From now on that there's no need ever really to ever lose that genetic diversity that's remaining in these wild populations."

No immediate plans to try again

Among the reasons scientists selected the gaur for the cloning experiment was its compatibility with the cow. Both animals are roughly the same size with roughly similar gestation periods, so a cow has a good chance of carrying a healthy gaur to term.

The scientists have not indicated whether they intend to try to clone a gaur again using a cow as the surrogate mother, but they do have long-term goals for more cloning research.

They say they plan to clone an extinct Spanish mountain goat called a bucardo, and they have expressed interest in cloning other endangered animals like the gorilla, the ocelot and even the giant panda.

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Advanced Cell Technology

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