Thursday, 22 November 2012

Conservation Conundrum: Should Brazil Clone Endangered Species?

Cloning, the creation of genetically identical individuals, seems like a fantasy of sci-fi movies and mad scientists. But large-scale cloning, as part of a conservation effort, might not be that far off. Before we get our flying cars and jet packs, we might get clones of endangered species.

The Brasilia Zoological Garden, in conjunction with the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation(EMBRAPA), recently announced that they are moving forward with a plan to clone up to eight endangered species. The goal of the project is not to augment the wild animal population, but to increase the number of captive species. EMBRAPA reasons that this will lessen the need to take animals from their natural habitats and place them in zoos.

To perform the cloning process, EMBRAPA has spent the last two years collecting genomes from the targeted animals. Scientists report that they already have around 420 samples.

"What they're going to do is take cells from the endangered species and plant the nucleus of those cells into an oocyte [female reproductive cell] of the carrying mother and clone it," said Dr. John Loike, the Director of Special Programs for the Center for Bioethics at Columbia University, to TakePart.

Ironically, conservationists are not too keen on this latest ‘conservation’ method. They are worried about the welfare of the cloned animal, as well as the carrying mother during gestation. A bigger concern is the potential for unforeseen consequences on the existing populations of endangered animals if the cloned animals are released to the wild. Introducing cloned animals into the wild could negatively impact biodiversity by limiting the available gene pool.


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