Chinese researchers clone arctic wolf in ‘historic’ conservation project

On Monday, Beijing-based company Sinogene Biotechnology unveiled the female wolf clone, named Maya by scientists, marking 100 days since she was born on June 10.

Maya, a greyish-brown puppy with a bushy tail, is in healthy condition, the company said. During a press conference, he showed videos of Maya playing and resting.

“After two years of arduous efforts, the arctic wolf was successfully cloned. It is the first such case in the world,” Mi Jidong, general manager of the company, said at the press conference, according to Chinese state media.
The arctic wolf, also known as the white wolf or polar wolf, is a subspecies of gray wolf native to the high arctic tundra in the arctic archipelago of northern Canada. Its conservation status, the metric used to determine how close a species is to extinction, is considered low risk, as its arctic habitat is remote enough to evade hunters, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. But climate change increasingly threatens their food supply, while human development, such as roads and pipelines, encroaches on their territory.
Sinogene launched its arctic wolf cloning project in 2020, in collaboration with the Harbin Polarland polar theme park, it said in a statement posted on the Twitter-like platform. Weibo.

To create Maya, the company used a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same technique that was used to create the first mammalian clone, Dolly the sheep, in 1996.

First, they used a skin sample from the original arctic wolf, also called Maya, introduced from Canada to Harbin Polarland, to retrieve “donor cells,” which are then injected into a female dog’s egg cell and carried by a surrogate mother.

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Scientists were able to create 85 of those embryos, which were transferred into the wombs of seven beagles, resulting in the birth of a healthy arctic wolf, the newly cloned Maya, according to state media.

The company said in its Weibo post that a second cloned arctic wolf is expected to be born soon.

Scientists plan the resurrection of an extinct animal since 1936

“The cloning technology provides a good entry point for the protection of endangered wild animals, which is a great contribution to the protection of biodiversity,” said He Zhenming, director of the Laboratory Animal Resources Institute of the National Institute of Food and Drug Control of China. in the Weibo post.

He added that the successful cloning of Maya was a “landmark event, which is of great importance for the protection of global wildlife and the restoration of endangered species,” according to the publication.

Sinogene said it will also start working with the Beijing Wildlife Park to research more cloning technologies and applications, as well as conduct research on the conservation and breeding of rare and endangered animals in China.

The original Mayan died of old age in 2021, according to the Global Times. The cloned Maya now lives with her beagle surrogate mother, and will later be housed in Harbin Polarland, open to the public.

extinction crisis

This is not the first time that conservation scientists have used cloning technology.

In Malaysia, where all Sumatran rhinos have died, scientists hope to use frozen tissue and cells to give birth to new rhinos using surrogate mothers. And in late 2020, US scientists successfully cloned an endangered wild black-footed ferret, once thought to be extinct worldwide.
Instead, other scientists are betting on gene-editing technology, with a team in Australia trying to edit cells from a marsupial to recreate its close relative, the extinct Tasmanian tiger.
Meet Elizabeth Ann the Ferret: America's First Endangered Animal to Be Cloned

These efforts are growing as scientists around the world race to save endangered species, as Earth approaches what is considered its sixth mass extinction.

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There have been five mass extinction events in history, each killing between 70% and 95% of species of plants, animals and microorganisms. The most recent, 66 million years ago, saw the dinosaurs disappear.

This sixth mass extinction would be unique in that it is being driven by humans, who have already wiped out hundreds of species through the wildlife trade, pollution, habitat loss and the use of toxic substances.

A 2020 study found that about a third of all plants and animals could face extinction by 2070, and things could get even worse if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly.
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But many of these new conservation efforts have also generated controversy, with questions about the ethics and health implications of cloning and gene editing.

In Maya’s case, a scientist told the Global Times, more research is needed into whether cloning can cause potential health risks. More guidelines also need to be established to determine the appropriate use of the technology, he added, such as only cloning extinct or endangered species.