Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Scientists cloning endangered Amami rabbit

It's no secret that cloning has been in the news and public imagination for years and in Science Fiction even longer. All manner of animals have been attempted, from frogs to sheep with varying degrees of success. Of late, talk about reviving extinct animals has gained some interest with the success in extracting DNA material from extinct mammoths in the hope that this material will someday be enough to clone the entire animal. Lost in the fray has been the animals that are not extinct but certainly are teetering on the edge. Now comes news of plans to clone the Amami rabbit.

According to Pink Tentacle: The Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi) is a nocturnal, forest-dwelling “primitive” rabbit with dark fur, short legs, large curved claws and small ears. Found only on the islands of Amami-ƌshima and Toku-no-Shima, it is sometimes called a “living fossil” for its resemblance to ancient rabbits that once inhabited the Asian mainland. The Amami rabbit’s dwindling population — now estimated at between 2,000 and 5,000 — has earned it a spot on Japan’s endangered species list.

Scientists at Osaka’s Kinki University have cloned an embryo of the endangered rabbit and are awaiting its birth. If successful, the Amami will join a small but growing group of endangered animals that have been cloned with varying degrees of success.

Of course cloning bring with it the concerns of environmental impact. One concern that I have is that even succeeding there is still great danger of loss of the animal group. One item that must be addressed is genetic diversity. Without a healthy gene pool, no matter how large the population, there is still risk of loss when the animal can no longer adapt or fight off disease.

[Source: Asahi] via pink tentacle

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