Story at a glance

  • A black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann was cloned from the frozen cells of Willa, a member of the species that lived more than 30 years ago.
  • The black-footed ferret is the only ferret species native to North American and has been classified as an endangered species in the U.S. since 1967.
  • Elizabeth Ann is being cared for and studied at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Fort Collins, Colo.

Scientists for the first time have successfully cloned an endangered U.S. species, a landmark achievement aimed at exploring ways to boost conservation efforts. 

A black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann was cloned from the frozen cells of Willa, a member of the species that lived more than 30 years ago, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Willa died in 1988 and was frozen as cloning research at the time was just getting underway. 


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Elizabeth Ann was born Dec. 10 to a surrogate mother and is being cared for at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Fort Collins, Colo. Researchers say a genomic study showed Willa’s genome possessed three times more unique variations than the population living in the wild, meaning if the cloned animal successfully mates and reproduces, she could provide genetic diversity to the endangered species. The achievement gives conservationists hope the process could help other endangered species return to the wild. 

“We’ve come a long way since 2013 when we began the funding, permitting, design and development of this project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Ryan Phelan, executive director of biotechnology nonprofit involved in the project Revive and Restore, said in a statement

“Genomics revealed the genetic value that Willa could bring to her species. But it was a commitment to seeing this species survive that has led to the successful birth of Elizabeth Ann. To see her now thriving ushers in a new era for her species and for conservation-dependent species everywhere. She is a win for biodiversity and for genetic rescue,” Phelan said. 

The black-footed ferret is the only ferret species native to North America and has been classified as an endangered species in the U.S. since 1967. The species was brought back from nearly vanishing forever by FWS after a small population of the animals were discovered on a Wyoming rancher’s land. 

Last summer, researchers in the U.S. successfully cloned the endangered Przewalski horse that is native to central Asia. 


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Published on Feb 19, 2021