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Scientists Await Birth of First Clone of Endangered Animal

Aired January 5, 2001 - 2:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Scientists in Massachusetts are eagerly awaiting a birth: the birth of the first clone of an endangered species. If successful, the next step could be the revival of an extinct animal. You remember "Jurassic Park."

With more now, here's CNN's Ann Kellan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANN KELLAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If all goes according to plan, this pregnant cow named Bessie will soon give birth, not to a calf, but a clone, the first cloned endangered species, a wild ox called a gaur.

DR. ROBERT LANZA, ADVANCED CELL TECHNOLOGY, INC.: This is the first time in the world this has been done. So, you know, we have to be cautious. And so keep our fingers crossed.

KELLAN: The gaur comes from Southeast Asia and India. In zoos they are difficult to breed; and, in the wild, their populations are dwindling. Scientist at a company called Advanced Cell Technology took an egg cell from a cow and hollowed out the nucleus. They replaced it with a nucleus from a gaur's skin cell. The nucleus contains all the genetic material needed for the gaur to grow and develop.

LANZA: This isn't a cross. This will be a gaur. This is not going to be half cow, half gaur.

KELLAN: When it reached the embryo stage, scientists inserted it into Bessie, and hoped she would carry the baby gaur to term. The gestation period of gaur is similar to a cow, about nine months. And researchers plan to deliver the gaur by C-section any day now.

LANZA: It is very unusual at this late stage to get a miscarriage. I mean, usually, the cloned animals, if they make it this far will make it to term. But, you know, this is a first. I don't know. I mean, I hate to get my hopes up.

KELLAN: Using frozen cells, researchers hope someday to use this method to restore a species that has already become extinct. And considering hundreds of species like pandas and cheetahs are on the verge of extinction, researchers hope similar cloning procedures could help breed them as well. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KELLAN: It's cute, but it is controversial. Some researchers say: If we aren't going to save these animals' habitats, why save these animals at all? So while we're excited...

ALLEN: That's a good question.

KELLAN: Yes, exactly. So it's a wonderful, you know, breakthrough. And if this works -- and everybody is keeping their fingers crossed -- it's wonderful.

ALLEN: And if it does work, will we see other endangered animals, then, probably cloned?

KELLAN: Well, the Spanish government has already said that it wants to clone a mountain goat, a newly extinct mountain goat called the Ricardo. And they've talked about cloning possibly a Siberian tiger and a panda.

ALLEN: How would they go about cloning the panda?

KELLAN: Well, with the panda, they have said that they would look at the black bear as the surrogate mother to carry the panda. But, of course, this is a political issue. And you would have to get permission from the Chinese government before anybody would do that.

ALLEN: And it brings the question: Where is human cloning right now?

KELLAN: Well, right now, it's in the cellular phase. We're doing a lot of cloning of organ tissue for treatment for people. And that's where the research is now. They say this is not cloning of humans. This is still not ethical. And they say it's still not safe.

ALLEN: OK, Ann Kellan, thanks. Let us know what happens with the ox.

KELLAN: I will.

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