Another first in clones

Another first in clones forthe first time, two unrelated clones of a wild species have bred naturally. Eight wildcat kittens were recently produced in two litters at Audubon Centre for Research of Endangered Species (acres), Audubon Nature Institute, New Orleans, the us, by crossbreeding cloned adults: two mothers Madge and Caty (cloned from female wildcat Nancy) and father Ditteaux (cloned from male wildcat Jazz). All the kittens are reportedly doing well. Earlier, clones of domestic animals, sheep, mice and cattle, have reproduced naturally. Researchers say the development holds enormous potential for preserving endangered species, though further research is needed to see if clones would breed normally once re-introduced to the wild.

"By improving the cloning process and then encouraging cloned animals to breed and make babies, we can revive the genes of individuals who might not be reproductively viable otherwise, and we can save genes from animals in the wild,' says Betsy Dresser, director, acres. "Skin samples of a long-dead but genetically valuable animal, if properly preserved in the frozen zoo, can be cloned to create a genetic match of the animal. Those genes can then be introduced back into the population through natural breeding, keeping the species viable and increasing their numbers,' she explains.

But conservationists believe cloning has limited value in protecting threatened species. While it can enhance captive breeding in future, at present it has no value for species in the wild. Work is needed on entire populations and habitats, as poaching and habitat destruction threaten wild species.

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