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Ann Kellan: Gaur cloning raises scientific and ethical questions

Friday, January 5, 2001
3 p.m. EST

Ann Kellan is a host for CNN's Science & Technology Week and a correspondent for the network's Technology Unit, reporting on the latest science and technology trends.

CNN Moderator: There have been many cloning breakthroughs in the past few years. What makes Noah special?

Ann Kellan: The fetus gaur Noah (a wild ox) is special because it is the first endangered species to be cloned. Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology used an egg cell from a cow, took out all the DNA information and replaced it with the DNA information of a gaur. It was bathed in a sperm solution so they didn't need a male--this cloned animal doesn't have a father.

The scientists let the cells multiply, then implanted them into the cow named Bessie. Even though Bessie is a cow and Noah is a wild ox, Noah will nurse from Bessie as if she was his mother.

Researchers say that if this birth is successful, cloning could be used to enhance the gene pool of an endangered species. If there is not a lot of diversity in the gene pool of an endangered species there are problems like defects and diseases. Cloning could enhance that gene pool.

CNN Moderator: What are the main ethical concerns involved with the process?


Ann Kellan: Many species are endangered due to lack of habitat. So ethically, some worry that if we create more species that are becoming extinct where are these animals going to live? Already we are seeing their habitats declining. Where could we put these animals? There is another concern is that the more we know about cloning the more it will lead to cloning of humans. Some scientists say it is not safe and unethical to clone humans.

CNN Moderator: Which species are candidates for cloning?

Ann Kellan: The Spanish government has given permission to clone the Bucardo, a newly extinct mountain goat. The surrogate mother for that Bucardo goat would be a common goat that you would see in the U.S. Another animal that you may see cloned is the panda, but there are obvious hurdles, such as the approval of the Chinese government, that would have to be crossed before that would be allowed. The black bear would likely be considered as the surrogate mother, if the decision were made to clone the panda.

Question from Sunny-CNN: Do we have DNA of extinct animals? And is it possible to bring one to life?

Ann Kellan: Yes, there are what are called 'frozen zoos.' -- The San Diego zoo has a frozen zoo for example -- where they have taken cells from recently extinct animals and have frozen them in these vats of dry ice. They can try to clone an animal from those frozen cells. The gaur cell came from the 'frozen zoo' in San Diego.

Question from Clark: We discussed cloning and trans-species surrogacy in my class, and my students were very worried about what we called the "Disney/Jurrassic Park" scenario, where animals like the Wooly Mammoth are brought back for their entertainment value. How likely is that to occur? Is "Jurassic Park" a possibility?

Ann Kellan: The 'frozen zoos' preserve tissue samples and DNA using very careful methods and the DNA is in good shape properly preserved, and not degraded. When they get a DNA sample from a Wooly Mammoth, it has been exposed to the elements for a very long time. It has been very badly degraded and the chances of creating a viable clone are very low, because the DNA is degraded. So, the chances of having a Jurassic Park episode are minimal.

Question from Candyce-CNN: Is there a reason why a lot of these cloning efforts have been with mammals? I would think they would have started with "lower" species.

Ann Kellan: Actually, with plants they have done a lot of cloning to produce better fruits, vegetables and flowers. And I'm sure there are a lot of research done in labs that we don't hear about. We are mammals, and the cloning of mammals is such a spectacular thing. It is not as easy to reproduce mammals. We hear about them more often.

Question from Naamal-CNN: Is it possible to clone individual organs using this technology?

Ann Kellan: What research hopes to do is clone human tissues and organs for therapeutic sake. An example that was given me by one of the researchers is if you had heart problems, it would be nice to be able to take cells from your heart and clone them and give them back to you. They are your cells and you are less likely to reject them. This means no anti-rejection medicine. This is where this cloning research is going.

CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

Ann Kellan: I think we are excited about this and anxious to see how successful this gaur birth will be. We will keep everyone posted. And if it is a healthy gaur--then we can go on.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today

Ann Kellan: Nice chatting with you and hope to chat again soon.

Ann Kellan joined the chat room via telephone from CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta, GA and provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Friday, January 5, 2001.

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