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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Endangered sheep cloned
Cloned mouflon lamb and foster mother Nature Biotechnology
The lamb clone grazes with its domestic foster mother
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

Scientists have revealed the existence of the first surviving clone of an endangered mammal.

The animal is a European mouflon lamb, a rare breed of sheep found on Sardinia, Corsica and Cyprus.

It's the first successful surviving birth of an endangered cloned mammal

Michael Clinton, Roslin Institute
The female lamb was produced by scientists in Italy using a technique pioneered in Dolly the sheep.

Several attempts have been made to clone endangered species but until now they have ended in failure.

The mouflon lamb, which is being cared for at a wildlife rescue centre in Sardinia, is now about six months old.

It was made by a European team led by Pasqualino Loi of the University of Teramo, Italy.

Clone 'confirmed'

The domestic sheep was the first mammal to be cloned, in 1996. Since then, other farm animals, including pigs, goats and cattle, have been cloned.

Cloned monkey
The monkey is one of the latest animals to be cloned
The Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, which created Dolly, collaborated on the mouflon cloning project.

Genetic tests at the institute confirmed that the lamb was a genuine clone.

"It's the first successful surviving birth of an endangered cloned mammal," Roslin's Michael Clinton told BBC News Online.

The lamb was cloned from the genetic material from one of two ewes found dead at a wildlife rescue centre in Sardinia. DNA was extracted from the carcass and injected into the empty egg cell of a donor domestic sheep to create an embryo.

A surrogate mother, also a domestic sheep, then carried the lamb clone to term.

Genetic rescue

Many scientists believe cloning may be necessary to save endangered animals as a last resort.

Wild sheep
There are six species of wild sheep, including the bighorn, the mouflon, and the argali
The European mouflon lamb is described as endangered by the IUCN, World Conservation Union
There are thought to be less than 1,000 mature individuals present in the wild
DNA banks containing genetic material from rare breeds are already being set up in many countries, including the UK. But until now, attempts to clone endangered animals have been fraught with difficulties.

The first endangered animal clone - a baby gaur - was born in the United States in January this year. But the baby bull, Noah, died within 48 hours of birth, from dysentery.

Another bid to clone a wild sheep - the argali - failed to produce live offspring. The mouflon cloning project shows that domestic cousins of rare breeds can be used as a source of live eggs or as surrogate mothers in cloning experiments.

"In the unlikely event that all the animals of an endangered species died out suddenly, if you could get the genetic material within 18-24 hours you could rescue the species," Dr Clinton told BBC News Online.

"This would be an argument to begin storing cells from species that are endangered and try to identify domestic species that are compatible," he added.

The research is reported in full in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

See also:

08 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Endangered species cloned
16 Oct 00 | South Asia
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22 Jun 99 | Sci/Tech
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