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a ferret: First clone of an endangered species

Scientists have succeeded in cloning the first endangered American species: a black-footed ferret replicated from the genes of an animal that died more than 30 years ago.

It is about a ferret named Elizabeth Ann, an elusive predator who was born on December 10 and who was unveiled on Thursday. Although she is very cute, you have to be careful: unlike her adoptive mother – a domesticated ferret who brought her into the world – the black-footed ferret has a wild heart.

“You may have quietly handled a black-footed ferret and the next day they will try to rip your finger off,” the US Federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) black-footed ferret recovery coordinator said Thursday. acronym in English), Pete Gober. “It is holding on.”

Elizabeth Ann was born and is being raised at an FWS Black Legged Ferret Breeding Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is a genetic copy of a specimen named Willa, who died in 1988 and whose remains were frozen in the early days of DNA technology.

Cloning could also allow the reappearance of extinct species, such as the passenger pigeon. So far, the technique holds promise for helping endangered species, such as a Mongolian wild horse that was cloned and was born last summer in central Texas.

“Biotechnology and genomic data can make a difference on the ground in conservation efforts,” said Ben Novak, principal scientist at Revive & Restore, a biotechnology-focused conservation organization that coordinated the clones of ferrets and horses.

Black-legged ferrets are a type of weasel easily recognizable by the dark markings on their eyes that are reminiscent of a thief’s mask. Charismatic and nocturnal, they feed exclusively on prairie dogs and live amid the huge burrowing colonies of these rodents.

Even before cloning, black-footed ferrets were a conservation success. They were believed to have become extinct – victims of habitat loss from shooting and poisoning of prairie dog colonies by ranchers, because they made grasslands less suitable for livestock – until A ranch dog named Shep brought a dead one home to Wyoming in 1981.

Scientists assembled the remaining population for a captive breeding program that has released thousands of ferrets in dozens of locations in the western United States, Canada and Mexico since the 1990s.