Biotechnicians like Gómez are hoping for a new era of wildlife conservation. In a bid to save endangered species, they tear down biological barriers and create embryos that contain cell material from two different species of mammals. Iberian lynxes, tigers, Ethiopian wolves and panda bears could all soon be carried to term by related surrogate mothers, and thus saved for future generations.
“Interspecies cloning is an amazing tool to ensure that an endangered species carries on,” says Gómez. “We can’t wait until those species have disappeared.”
In addition to African wildcats, the researcher has created embryos for sand cats, black-footed cats and rusty-spotted cats. The surrogate mothers and egg cell donors are domestic house cats, which are both easy to keep and have a reproductive biology that has been thoroughly studied. The animals in Gómez’s research department come under the knife a number of times each week.
Japanese scientists are even trying to clone the woolly mammoth. Three years ago, cell nuclei from these hairy, tusked ice-age beasts were discovered in mammoth legs that have been frozen in the permafrost of Northeast Siberia for the past 15,000 years.
In the laboratory, a team led by geneticist Akira Iritani injected cell nuclei from the prehistoric animal into enucleated egg cells from mice. The cell constructs only survived for a few hours, but Iritani remains optimistic that an elephant surrogate mother will soon bring to term the first mammoth clone.
Now, will the French who discovered a woolly mammoth recently also do this? Or will they just make designer handbags from it?