The first-ever cloned black-footed ferret could save its species

Elizabeth Ann, the first cloned black-foot ferret, has reached breeding age, and conservation biologists hope to save her species.

Published Tue, Feb 15 2022 4:41 AM CST   |   Updated Sun, Mar 13 2022 12:03 AM CST

Elizabeth Ann is the world's first cloned black-foot ferret, and was born on December 10th, 2020.

Elizabeth Ann made history just over a year ago as the first-ever cloned black-footed ferret. She was created from the cells of another black-footed ferret that died 35 years ago, named Willa. She was born from a surrogate ferret and, just over a year later, has achieved sexual maturity, one of the first clones of an endangered species to do so.

Now that Elizabeth Ann is of breeding age, conservation biologists hope to use her to help save the species from extinction. It will be the first time cloning has been successfully integrated into such an endeavor. Due to their small population size, the wild ferret colonies are currently suffering from inbreeding, decreasing their genetic diversity and reproductive fitness.

Elizabeth Ann's DNA contains multiple forms of genes found throughout the breeding program's inbred ferrets. It is hoped that her children will help reinvigorate the genetic viability of black-footed ferrets. Currently, she resides at a conservation center near Fort Collins, Colorado, and scientists are seeking a compatible mate for her.

"When it comes to black-footed ferrets, the mating scenario can get a little rough and we don't want Elizabeth Ann to be injured. She is precious, so we need an experienced male who has already produced offspring and who is therefore not going to be infertile, a problem that affects many black-footed ferret males today. In addition, we will select him for his gentleness," said Oliver Ryder, director of genetics conservation at San Diego Zoo.

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