Scientists in a groundbreaking feat have cloned the first U.S. endangered species for the first time, a black-footed ferret duplicated from the frozen genes of an animal that died over 30 years ago. The clone, named Elizabeth Ann was revealed to the world on Thursday by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Fort Collins, Colorado. FWS coordinator Pete Gober said “You might have been handling a black-footed ferret kit and then they try to take your finger off the next day,” “She’s holding her own.” "Genomics revealed the genetic value that Willa could bring to her species," added Ryan Phelan, the executive director of conservation organization Revive & Restore, which was involved in the project.
"But it was a commitment to seeing this species survive that has led to the successful birth of Elizabeth Ann.
"To see her now thriving ushers in a new era for her species and for conservation-dependent species everywhere. She is a win for biodiversity and for genetic rescue."
"Without an appropriate amount of genetic diversity, a species often becomes more susceptible to diseases and genetic abnormalities," the agency said in a statement.
All black-footed ferrets alive today are descended from just seven individuals, the FWS said, which presents unique genetic challenges to recovering the species. Elizabeth Ann's birth is a hopeful moment in the effort to boost its numbers because her potential offspring would diversify the species.
Scientists hope Elizabeth Ann will mate and diversify her species.
Cloning eventually could bring back extinct species such as the passenger pigeon. Currently, the technique holds promise for helping endangered species including a Mongolian wild horse that was cloned and last summer-born at a Texas facility.
Black-footed ferrets are one of North America's most endangered species.
They were declared extinct in 1979, but a Wyoming rancher discovered a small population living on his land two years later and that group formed the start of a breeding program.