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Researchers build DNA bank to clone endangered animals on the brink of extinction: 'An insurance policy against future loss'

The DNA bank was inspired by the successful cloning of a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann.

The DNA bank was inspired by the successful cloning of a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann.

Photo Credit: iStock

More and more species are becoming endangered and facing the threat of extinction because of human activities. To ensure that these species aren't lost forever, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is building a DNA bank of endangered species for potential cloning, Scientific American reported.

"It's an insurance policy against future loss of biodiversity in the wild," said FWS deputy assistant regional director Seth Willey, who is heading the pilot project.

The DNA bank was inspired by the cloning of a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann — the first successful cloning of an endangered species in the United States. Working with Revive & Restore, a nonprofit biotechnology company that focuses on conservation; pet cloning company ViaGen Pets & Equine; and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the Fish and Wildlife Service is aiming to establish a bank with cryogenically stored tissue from one male and one female of every endangered animal species in the country.

At present, there are more than 1,600 endangered plant and animal species in the U.S., according to the Center for Biological Diversity. So far, the researchers behind the pilot phase of the project have collected tissue from 13 species, including the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, Peñasco least chipmunk, Texas kangaroo rat, Mexican wolf, Sonoran pronghorn, and Mount Graham red squirrel. The pilot phase aims to collect tissue from 25 species.

To build the bank, the groups behind the pilot project are hoping to receive $1.5 million dollars in funding from the Department of the Interior — not that much, all things considered.

However, there will be additional challenges. Cloning technology is mainly applicable to mammals, meaning that birds and reptiles cannot be cloned via cryogenically stored tissue. Still, that could always change in the future, so the DNA of these animals is still worth preserving.

DNA technology is being used to help track and protect endangered species in other ways as well. Recently, DNA analysis of a dead ocelot in Texas indicated that there may be more ocelots in the wild than previously thought, spurring conservationists to act to offer additional protection to that endangered species.

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