When it comes to cloning, your first thought is probably not of a black-legged ferret named Elizabeth Ann – but it probably should be.
A team of colleagues from San Diego Zoo Global, Viagen Pets & Equine, The Fish & Wildlife Service and a biotech conservation group called Revive & Restore collaborated for the first time to successfully clone a ferret using cell and a little electricity is.
The black-footed ferret population has been in crisis for a long time, largely due to a combination of sylvatic plague, which presents as a bacterial infection caused by fleas and a lack of genetic diversity. According to National Geographic, all black-footed angels living today are similar to siblings or first cousins - making the continuation of the species somewhat problematic.
To combat this, scientists took eggs from the black-footed ferret’s closest living relative: the humble domestic ferret. This process matured the eggs, removing the nucleus and attaching it to the cells of the long-dead black-footed ferret. Due to activation stimulation, or electric charge, cells were able to divide and were implanted into a domestic ferret.
Ben Novak, a scientist with Revive and Restore, said the grandchildren of the wild child in 2025 said it could be brought back into the wild in 2025. The hope is that this diversity may help to create more and more resistant sylvatic plague caused by bacteria that are caused by the black plague, and thus increase resistance to the disease.
“Broadening the gene pool seems like a tremendous opportunity to help ensure the species’ long-term sustainability,” Oliver Rider, director of conservation genetics at the San Diego Zoo, told National Geographic.