A highly endangered black-footed ferret has been successfully cloned in the United States using DNA. Despite once being thought to be extinct, it was cloned from an identical animal which had been frozen since 1988.
Until 1981, the black-footed ferret was thought to have been completely extinct until a ranch dog led scientists to a colony of 18 who were then kept on a captive breeding program.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Elizabeth Ann, born on 10 December 2020, is the first endangered clone for a US species; the black-footed ferret is North America’s only native species of ferret.
All black-footed ferrets are descents of seven ancestors that were found in 1981 in Wyoming; Elizabeth Ann was cloned from the preserved DNA of another animal, named Willa who was not one of the original seven descendants and died in the mid-1980s. Willa, who has been found to have no other ancestors, was captured in the wild, with researchers hoping that cloning her genes will increase genetic diversity and help other species which are severely threatened to recover.
Elizabeth Ann will not be released into the wild, but will live at the facility where she was born in Colorado, so that researchers can study her. It is hoped that she will be able to be released into the wild for breeding and to encourage further genetic diversity. The successful cloning was conducted by ViaGen Pets & Equine, who successfully transferred the embryo into a surrogate ferret. Elizabeth Ann is healthy and scientists think her grandkids or great-grandkids will be released into the wild in 2024 or 2025.
The cloning of Elizabeth Ann has further enhanced the need for conservation and the preservation of cells of endangered, threatened and extinct species. This is a huge step forward for science, with the ability to reintroduce new species.