Extinct Ibex Is Back ~ By Cloning

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 31st, 2009

Young Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica), Sierra de Gredos, Spain Photo: Jose Luis GOMEZ de FRANCISCO/naturepl.com

This breaking news tonight could have rather far-reaching consequences for cryptozoology. After all, what is the purpose of searching for new animals that you theorize are merely an animal that has gone extinct, such as the thylacine? What reasons are there for looking for animals once thought extinct that may still be surviving out in the forest, if all you have to do is merely clone them?

The Pyrenean ibex, a form of wild mountain goat, was officially declared extinct in 2000 when the last-known animal of its kind was found dead in northern Spain.

Shortly before its death, scientists preserved skin samples of the goat, a subspecies of the Spanish ibex that live in mountain ranges across the country, in liquid nitrogen.

Using DNA taken from these skin samples, the scientists were able to replace the genetic material in eggs from domestic goats, to clone a female Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo as they are known. It is the first time an extinct animal has been cloned.

Sadly, the newborn ibex kid died shortly after birth due to physical defects in its lungs. Other cloned animals, including sheep, have been born with similar lung defects.

But the breakthrough has raised hopes that it will be possible to save endangered and newly extinct species by resurrecting them from frozen tissue.

It has also increased the possibility that it will one day be possible to reproduce long-dead species such as woolly mammoths and even dinosaurs.

Dr Jose Folch, from the Centre of Food Technology and Research of Aragon, in Zaragoza, northern Spain, led the research along with colleagues from the National Research Institute of Agriculture and Food in Madrid.

He said: “The delivered kid was genetically identical to the bucardo. In species such as bucardo, cloning is the only possibility to avoid its complete disappearance.”

Pyrenean ibex, which have distinctive curved horns, were once common in northern Spain and in the French Pyrenees, but extensive hunting during the 19th century reduced their numbers to fewer than 100 individuals.

They were eventually declared protected in 1973, but by 1981 just 30 remained in their last foothold in the Ordesa National Park in the Aragon District of the Pyrenees.

The last bucardo, a 13-year-old female known as Celia, was found dead in January 2000 by park rangers near the French border with her skull crushed.

Dr Folch and his colleagues, who were funded by the Aragon regional government, had, however, captured the bucardo the previous year and had taken a tissue sample from her ear for cryopreservation.

Using techniques similar to those used to clone Dolly the sheep, known as nuclear transfer, the researchers were able to transplant DNA from the tissue into eggs taken from domestic goats to create 439 embryos, of which 57 were implanted into surrogate females.

Just seven of the embryos resulted in pregnancies and only one of the goats finally gave birth to a female bucardo, which died seven minutes later due to breathing difficulties, perhaps due to flaws in the DNA used to create the clone.

Despite the highly inefficient cloning process and death of the cloned bucardo, many scientists believe similar approaches may be the only way to save critically endangered species from disappearing.

Research carried out by Japanese geneticist Teruhiko Wakayama raised hopes that even species that died out long ago could be resurrected after he used cells taken from mice frozen 16 years ago to produce healthy clones.

But attempts to bring back species such as woolly mammoths and even the Dodo are fraught with difficulties. Even when preserved in ice, DNA degrades over time and this leaves gaps in the genetic information required to produce a healthy animal.

Scientists, however, last year published a near-complete genome of the woolly mammoth, which died out around 10,000 years ago, sparking speculation it will be possible to synthesise the mammoth DNA.

Professor Robert Miller, director the Medical Research Council’s Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University, is working with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland on a project to use cloning on rare African mammals including the northern white rhino.

They have set up the Institute for Breeding Rare and Endangered African Mammals in the hope of using breeding technologies to conserve species including the Ethiopian wolf, the African wild dog and the pygmy hippo.

Professor Millar said: “I think this is an exciting advance as it does show the potential of being able to regenerate extinct species.

“Clearly there is some way to go before it can be used effectively, but the advances in this field are such that we will see more and more solutions to the problems faced.”

A number of projects around the world are now attempting to store tissue and DNA from endangered species. The Zoological Society of London and the Natural History Museum have set up the Frozen Ark project in a bid to preserve DNA from thousands of animals before they disappear entirely.

Source: “Extinct ibex is resurrected by cloning: An extinct animal has been brought back to life for the first time after being cloned from frozen tissue,” by Richard Gray and Roger Dobson, Telegraph, London, 11:47PM GMT 31 Jan 2009

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

11 Responses to “Extinct Ibex Is Back ~ By Cloning”

  1. mystery_man responds:

    I can see the merit in developing technologies to clone certain animals, especially ones that are fairly recently extinct due to human activities, whose ecosystem has adapted with them and could be dramatically altered by their absence. There could be great benefit to be had from these kinds of technologies, and I’m not against the idea of it under certain circumstances. Yet ideally, I would like to see these animals and their habitat protected so that we don’t have to clone them.

    I advocate a more holistic approach where possible, fixing the underlying causes of these extinctions such as habitat destruction, poaching, pollution, dangerous highways through habitats, and so on, rather than the symptoms, such as extinct species or highly endangered species, and diminished ecological functioning or genetic fitness as a result. It seems to me that there are other much more important issues that could be addressed while a species still exists rather than whether we have the DNA on file so that we can clone them if it comes to that.

    To me, it is sad and indicative of deeper problems if it does comes down to that, and it would be unfortunate if we get lax on some of the issues I mentioned just because we know that cloning is an option. If a species has to be cloned due to extinction by human causes, then I feel that in a certain sense we have already failed.

  2. Ceroill responds:

    Interesting. (I seem to use that word a lot) I have seen suggestions of cloning Thylacines. I have also seen more recently mention of a study that suggests the Thylacines were (are?) strongly inbred, much like cheetas are, and that this contributed to their fading.

  3. dogu4 responds:

    Like Ceroill says; “interesting”, indeed. How is it that a population under close scrutiny can go from 30 to Zero in a couple of decades? I have to suspect that along with inbreeding (whose prominence as a perceived cause for decline is likely conflated with our instinctual taboo psychology regarding the subject) there are other human factors, like poaching or harrassment. It certainly makes on wish that instead of needing to clone the conservation community had taken greater steps to see the last 30 didn’t die. In any event, there’s probably an back story here, I suspect, sort of like the one that accompanied the efforts to capture and start a captive breeding program for the California Condor when its population dwindled down to the couple of dozen range…and of course prior to that they were still being shot at routinely by some trigger happy types who had yet to appreciate that every big soaring bird wasn’t some villain preying on some rancher’s innocent lambs and calves.
    These reports of biological conservation programs applying genetic engineering of a wide variety of approaches seem to be proliferating lately. Each one brings a new level of understanding and for the public an new opportunity to refamiliarize ourselves with what new techniques are emerging. Fascinating and thanks for bringing ’em to our attention. Keep us posted.

  4. BeastInTheLake responds:

    I feel a bit torn on this one. My idealistic side agrees with Mystery_Man – humans should act in time to prevent the extinction of species – but my inner cynic says they probably won’t, so better have the other option handy.

  5. MattBille responds:

    Beast has a good point. Essentially, we need every tool we can put in the conservation toolbox. Some conservationists have expressed concern that the availability of cloning might make it seem less important to preserve habitat, but things have not advanced enough for us to find out whether anyone will actually make such an argument. I can’t see it being advanced very seriously. If we can restore some animals we’ve already lost, that seems worthwhile.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    Yes, I may seem idealistic, but I’m also being practical.

    I understand wanting to have this one in our toolbox, cloning can be a good option in some cases. It is worthwhile. But really, cloning an animal isn’t going to do much good if we don’t address the underlying reasons for why the animal went extinct in the first place. What good is cloning if those factors are not fixed? Animals and their habitat are intrinsically linked, you cannot have one function healthily without the other. If these problems with habitat and human influence aren’t rectified, cloning will be just be at best a temporary fix, the animals will very likely just go extinct again and what then? We clone again, and around and around we go. It’s like putting a band aid on a very serious wound, it stops the blood for now, but doesn’t do much to mend the reason why you are bleeding in the first place.

    What good is having the animal resurrected if it has nowhere to go? You can clone animals all you want, but if things like habitat loss, pollution, and human interference aren’t fixed, the only thing these cloned animals are going to be good for is zoos, where we can see the kind of biodiversity that once inhabited our planet in the wild. It seems to me that cloning without any solid plans for conservation, habitat preservation or ensuring that the same thing doesn’t happen again is folly. I tend to think cloning should be a last resort, and even then only in conjunction with some plan to make sure these animals and their habitat can survive.

    Cloning is something for the toolbox, but not a foundation upon which to build.

  7. BeastInTheLake responds:

    Mystery_Man, I quite agree with your principles, and I wouldn’t want to resurrect a species whose environment had become irrevocably damaged. My point is just, that I don’t see much chance of the holistic approach, you talk about, becoming the general rule in the near future. It may be spreading in the western world, but in the third world population pressure and the (understandable) drive for a higher standard of living is leading to environmental destruction at an alarming rate.
    I hope this is not an irrevocable process – after all the West has begun to protect whatever wilderness it has left and even to repair some of the damage done previously. Hopefully this will eventually happen in the rest of the world too – and in that situation it would be great if we could also bring back the animals belonging to those environments.
    In other words, my outlook is one of short-term pessimism and long-term… well, hope, at least.

  8. kittenz responds:

    I want the development of cloning to continue. Habitat issues have to be addressed, of course – for our own good as well as for the animals. Animals are much better off in their own habitats. But the reality is that humans are overtaking habitats at an ever-increasing rate. Space and resources for animals are becoming more expensive and scarce every day. Already some species survive only in preserves and zoos. Cloning can help to preserve some species that will otherwise go extinct, until possibly habitat issues can be resolved. Cloning can also be used to help preserve genetic diversity in species whose populations have not yet reached a bottleneck.

    And the day will come, probably not in my lifetime but maybe sooner than we think, when humans are ready to migrate from Spaceship Earth and populate other planets. Cloned embryos could be used to “seed” those new worlds with life, giving species new habitats in which they can continue to survive and evolve.

  9. dogu4 responds:

    I’m a strong proponent of using whatever tool in the kit we have available and not disregarding any but it’s interesting to note that a couple of days ago the NYT featured an article regarding the jungle re-claiming land abandoned by small farmers and villagers in the jungle…so maybe the natural habitat and its denizens are proving to be more resilient than we sometimes give ’em credit. We have seen something of the same effect here in North America and even in central Eurasia where vast areas have become depopulated as people migrate towards urban centers and jobs, peasant labor no longer being economical at those scales on marginal lands, but whose hedges, swamps and woodlots provide a home some of the original inventory…and a few others.

    As for bringing back by genetic engineering now extinct populations even with the absence of their original habitat, I don’t think that the absence of the ecosystems we associate with them is all that important. Animals are adaptive and there are many examples of animals surprising their researchers by finding themselves able to survive in habitat that would not have been considered compatible. That adaptability is the wild card in the game and science can’t bank on it or predict it, but nobody who watches with interest can ignore it or deny its existence.

    More is better!

  10. Squiver responds:

    “I have to suspect that along with inbreeding (whose prominence as a perceived cause for decline is likely conflated with our instinctual taboo psychology regarding the subject) there are other human factors, like poaching or harrassment.”

    In the particular case of the Ibex Mountain Goat, they, like all other species of mountain goat so infamously are, are extremely stubborn and ill-adaptable. They don’t breed unless under ideal conditions, their diet is scarce and extremely exclusive, they don’t do well in the company of human contact even the slightest, and in short, they don’t survive well through much of anything, so it’s no surprise to me that the population would not be able to sustain itself at 30 for more than a few decades.

    As to the suggestion of Thylacine breeding I had always thought that myself (in fact I was surprised to see this article, I didn’t know cloning of endangered species was a breakthough, I thought it was available technology for some time now…), but I wonder what genetic material is still valid for cloning after 70 years. After all, certainly no specimen was cryogenically frozen, and unless any of the fur particles or any of the preserved pickled specimens retain completely in tact DNA (I’ll admit I have not the faintest idea the impact of pickling on the DNA of a body), it would be difficult to bring back the Thylacine, even with the most advanced technology, tragically.

  11. Squiver responds:

    In addition to my last comment, in hindsight the article seemed strange in that it had mentioned wanting to bring back species such as woolly mammoths and dinosaurs, almost as if it were a moral guilt that these species are gone. I know that this isn’t at all the case and in the event of such ancient wonders it is a matter of curiosity, but it accounts for a curious moral responsibility now that we have a little more God in our “toolbox”; what species are we to ressurect, or, more to the point, what do we claim responsibility for?

    For instance, do we bring back the Giant Moa of New Zealand because the native Maori islanders, upon arriving on the island, drove it to extinction out of primal fear? Or, do we call the intrusion of the early settlers a natural progression of survival and evolution?

    As much of an environmentalist as I am it seems to me that if we were to glue all of the leaves back onto the tree that we had ripped off, we may be adhering dead leaves to an otherwise healthy tree, never giving it room to bud.

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