Scientists clone endangered horse from genetic material frozen 40 years ago

Kurt is a baby horse born last month. But Kurt is a very special horse because he's one of approximately 2,000 endangered Przewalski's horses alive on the planet, and he was cloned from genetic material that's been frozen for 40 years. Revive & Restore—the wildlife conservation organization most famous for their efforts to resurrect the Woolly Mammoth and Passenger Pigeon—worked with the San Diego Zoo Global and pet cloning firm ViaGen Pets and Equine to create an embryo from frozen cells belonging to a stallion, named Kuporovic, that died in 1998. The scientists then implanted the embryo into a domestic horse that acted as a surrogate.

"This birth expands the opportunity for genetic rescue of endangered wild species," says Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore. "Advanced reproductive technologies, including cloning, can save species by allowing us to restore genetic diversity that would have otherwise been lost to time."

From Revive & Restore:

The Przewalski's horse (pronounced "shuh-VAL-skees") population faces the same struggle that many endangered species face—recovering from a severe historic bottleneck. Today's Przewalski's horses, of which there are now approximately 2,000, are descendants of just 12 individuals saved from extinction in the early 1900s[…]

[Kuporovik's] cell line was chosen for genetic rescue cloning because an analysis of the captive breeding pedigree revealed that the genome offers significantly more genetic variation than any living Przewalski's horse. Now that the genetic variation from Kuporovic "lives" again in Kurt, Kurt may become the most important horse in the North American captive breeding population. He may also become the first cloned animal to restore lost genetic variation to its species.

(Thanks, Heather Sparks!)

image: Scott Stine