Scientists Cloned an Endangered Black-Footed Ferret (And It’s Super Cute!)

Two photos of Elizabeth Ann, the first cloned black-footed ferret.
US Fish and Wildlife

Meet Elizabeth Ann, the first clone of a black-footed ferret and, more importantly, the first clone of a US endangered species. Elizabeth Ann is cloned from a ferret named Willa who died in 1988 and, with great foresight, was frozen for future conservation efforts.

Once thought to be extinct, all black-footed ferrets alive today descend from just seven individuals—an predicament that raises concerns for genetic diversity and disease resistance. The birth of Elizabeth Ann serves as a landmark for conservation efforts, as the young clone, created from frozen cells of a ferret that died 30 years ago, could strengthen her species better than any other black-footed ferret born in captivity.

The fact that any black-footed ferrets exist today is a miracle. Farming and urbanization brought the species to its knees, especially as US ranchers killed off crop-eating prairie dogs—the black-footed ferret’s main source of food. Today’s population descends from a family of black-footed ferrets discovered and captured for a breeding program in the early 1980s, years after scientists believed the species to be extinct.

Elizabeth Ann is a clone of a ferret named Willa, which was frozen at the beginning of cloning science. Zoos and labs around the world keep samples of endangered and extinct animals, which could one day come back to life to diversity gene pools or reintroduce a species to the world. Of course, Elizabeth Ann is the first clone of a US endangered species, and we’ll have to wait and see if this particular conservation method is really useful or practical.

Source: US Fish and Wildlife

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
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