A pair of Arctic wolf pups are now the pioneers of cloning technologies after their birth at a Beijing-based gene firm. Born about 100 days apart, the duo provides further support for the application of this research to help recover endangered populations and revive extinct species. This progress can help reverse the damage humans cause to Earth’s biodiversity.
The science and other stuff to know
The skin cells of a late female Arctic wolf, Maya, were used to clone this new pup. A beagle was chosen as the surrogate mother due to the intermingled evolutionary path of domestic dogs and wolves. Embryos were placed into the dog’s uterus along with six other beagles. The cloned wolf should also be able to reproduce if she has intact fertilized eggs, just as any other mammal.
A mere three days after Maya celebrated 100 days since her birth, a second Arctic wolf was born to another beagle mother in the biotech facility through the same process. Both wolves are healthy, weighing in at 520 grams and 571 grams, respectively, at birth. There are no plans to clone other Arctic wolves, but instead, other species as a next step. The importance of this milestone lies in the ambition for cloning technologies to help protect the more than 41,000 species threatened with extinction.
The famous reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park revived the area of its original grandeur after the mammals were culled from their historical range in the late 1900s. As top predators, the wolves triggered a phenomenon known as a trophic cascade. The transformation began with the ungulate populations, such as deer and elk, destroying the plants, particularly around rivers. With the reduction of their prey populations, the native plants flourished along, stabilizing the riverbanks and helping the waters meander across the land. Beavers dammed these rivers once more, reviving the wetlands within the park. Songbirds migrated back to the lush, vibrant ecosystem.
Today, the wolf recovery is hailed as one of the most successful wildlife reintroduction programs in the U.S. Biologists understand the interconnectedness of species, their dynamic fluctuations of populations, and an ecosystem’s capability of regulating itself over time. Now, other success stories happen all over the world. Every species, big or small, plant or animal, is critical for each environment to thrive in its natural state.
Despite the cloning successes, many technical and ethical issues need to be addressed within this exploratory research stage, such as adverse health effects, impacts on genetic biodiversity, and correct cloning circumstances. In addition, most believe this technology should be limited to significant extinct and endangered species no longer roaming their wild habitats.
The Sinogene Biotechnology Co and Beijing Wildlife Park plan to create a partnership to preserve the genes of rare and endangered wild animals that can be used in cloning applications. Breeding between the two cloned wolves is also on the table in the future within the Harbin Polarpark. Maya will live her days in the artificial Arctic with her potential mate.