Geneticists recently successfully cloned a Black-footed Polecat, a species considered endangered. This is a first in the United States. His birth represents an important step in the ongoing effort to increase the genetic diversity of this species.
Born on December 10, 2020, Elizabeth Ann is the genetic twin of a Black-footed Polecat (Mustela nigripes) named Willa who died in 1988, whose cells have since been preserved at the Frozen Zoo in San Diego. This storage facility, in which genetic material can be stored at very low temperature in liquid nitrogen tanks, has been in place for around 40 years. The goal : “Provide solutions to conservation problems”, explains its Director Oliver Ryder.
A highly endangered species
And the Black-footed Polecat needs some solutions after very close to extinction decades ago, mainly due to threats to their main food source (wild prairie dogs), distemper and Sylvatic plague (similar to bubonic plague).
Today all members of this species are descended from only seven individuals. Listed as endangered in the United States since March 1967, a breeder in Wyoming had indeed started raising a small group of these animals on his land as early as 1981, whose limbs were used to start a captive breeding program. . Since then, several populations have been reintroduced across the country, but the species remains fragile.
It all happened in 2008, with the authorization by the US Fish and Wildlife Service of a permit authorizing the research on the cloning of endangered species. A collaboration with the San Diego Zoo Global ultimately resulted in the birth of Elizabeth Ann.
More genetic diversity
This cloning experiment will aim to increase the genetic diversity of this species, enough to support the ongoing restocking efforts. Low genetic diversity often opens the way to inbreeding issues, potentially leading to increased susceptibility to diseases and genetic disorders, reduced ability to adapt in the wild, and lower fertility rates.
Note that Elizabeth Ann, as a genetic clone of Willa, is unrelated to the Wyoming polecats found in the 1980s. Her genome does indeed contain an abundance of unique variations from the already existing population. Hoping that she can now mate and reproduce. She currently lives at the USFWS National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado, with her surrogate mother, where they will remain for their entire lives.