Brazilian scientists have announced that they are moving ahead with plans to clone a number of endangered species, a list of animals that includes the jaguar, maned wolf, and black lion. The groundbreaking initiative is being conducted by the Brasilia Zoological Garden in partnership with the Brazilian government's agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA. The researchers claim that they're not looking to repopulate habitats, but to increase the number of captive specimens available. But in the event of extreme cases, they admit that they're prepared to release these cloned animals into the wild.
Researchers at the Brasilia Zoological Garden have selected eight animals for the initiative, most of which are on the the Red List of Threatened Species compiled by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The genetic material required to clone these animals were collected over the course of the past two years, including the genomes of the bush dog, coati, collared anteater, gray brocket deer, and bison. The genomes were harvested primarily from dead animals native to the Cerrado, the vast tropical savannah biome that stretches across central Brazil. The researchers say they have already collected 420 samples which are currently being stored in their gene banks.
Now that this initial phase is complete, the next step will be to train the researchers at the zoo.
These animals will not be the first ones to be cloned by EMBRAPA; the government agency was responsible for the birth of a cloned cow in 2001. Since that time, various other animals have been cloned in Brazil, including other cows and horses.
As it stands, existing legislation in Brazil does not adequately set out the regulations for cloning, but a bill is currently under development in the Brazilian senate. Speaking to the Tierramérica news service, EMBRAPA researcher Carlos Frederico Martins noted that, "Research can be freely conducted, but there is little monitoring and control."
And according to Martins, Brazil is not alone when thinking about cloning endangered species, noting that scientists in both South Korea and the United States are also working on similar research.
As to when the first cloned animal is expected to make its appearance, Martins wasn't prepared to say, but suggested that the first specimen was likely to be a maned wolf.
And in terms of motives, EMBRAPA researchers insist that they're not intending to release the animals into the wild — at least not unless they have to. The idea is to keep the animals in captivity for their own use — like restocking zoo populations — without having to pull the animals from their natural habitats. They're hoping to see conservation efforts in which these animals have their numbers restored by natural means.
And indeed, this is likely prudent given that cloned animals would diminish the genetic diversity of wild stocks. Moreover, the long term effects of releasing cloned animals into the wild are completely unknown — including potentially deleterious genetic effects.
But that being said, the researchers admit that in a crisis situation they will be able to "provide reinforcement." As Brasilia Zoo conservationist Juciara Pelles told Tierramérica, "We are still in the phase of developing the technology, so we still don't know if it will be possible to rescue a population in the wild, but we could potentially make it viable again."
The next step for the researchers is to get the formal go-ahead from the relevant agencies, what could take as little as one month.
Source: Tierramérica network via IPS news.
Images: Top: Pal Teravagimov/Shutterstock, colared anteater maned wolf.