Frozen Zoo


BEIJING: Argentinean scientists have successfully produced embryos of endangered species such as Asiatic cheetah, tiger and Bengal cat using frozen skin cells, in order to preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

“We are working on non-native species as a first step. Our main objective is to avoid the extinction of indigenous species, such as the jaguar,” said Daniel Salamone, associate professor of agronomy at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

“The Buenos Aires zoo has a genetic data bank in which all of its species are preserved, both indigenous and exotic ones,” Salamone told state-run ‘Xinhua’ news agency.

“We took frozen skin cells from that data bank to produce cheetah embryos. We were successful, making this a valid new cloning technique,” said Salamone, also a member of Conicet, Argentina’s foremost scientific body.

Salamone said the technique allows for the production of embryos with a great number of stem cells.

“This project began with the cloning of domestic cats before we transferred the process to wild felines. So far, we have been successful with cheetah, tiger, and Bengal cat cells,” said Lucia Moro, a biotechnology specialist at UBA.

“We now believe this process is transferable to other feline species, as long as the genetic material is available and cells are in good condition,” Moro said.

However, the team has not been able to take the project past the embryonic stage as their agreement with the zoo mandates they must follow the ethical standards of the Latin American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which only allows work on embryos.

“We began with the cheetah, as it is in risk of extinction, but it is also related to the puma and the jaguar,” said Adrian Sestelo, director of the Buenos Aires Zoo genetic data bank and biotechnology lab.

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