Buffalo might have been driven almost to extinction by overeager Americans, but now we have a chance to redeem ourselves—by genetically engineering new ones. Thanks to a team of scientists in India, we can add buffalo to the list of animals that have been cloned—including a camel, a wolf and, of course, the legendary sheep.
Scientists at India’s National Dairy Research Institute, in the Indian state of Haryana, produced the first cloned buffalo back in February, using DNA from the ear of an adult female—though unfortunately, it died of pneumonia soon after its birth. Now, they’ve tried again, resulting in a 95-pound female calf named Garima. She got her start from fetal tissue, according to a report released yesterday from India’s National Dairy Research Institute. The team also used a cloning technique that allowed them to choose the gender of the calf.
A U.S. fertility doctor has claimed that he can clone human embryos—and plant them inside the wombs of women who want cloned babies.
So far, none of his implantations have led to successful pregnancies, but Panayiotis Zavos is certain that the first cloned baby is not far off. Britain’s The Independent, a less-than-the-most-reliable source for science news, reports that Zavos can be seen here creating human embryos before injecting them into the the womb.
Zavos says he has transferred 11 of a total of 14 cloned embryos to the wombs of female patients, and that this is only the “first chapter” in his research—which he is confident will eventually produce successful results.
“I may not be the one that does it, but the cloned child is coming. There is absolutely no way that it will not happen,” Zavos told The Independent. He isn’t sure whether the research can be expedited to produce a cloned baby within a year or two. But then again, rushing it would emphasize the wrong priority: “We’re not really under pressure to deliver a cloned baby to this world. What we are under pressure to do is to deliver a cloned baby that is a healthy one.”
Injaz—the world’s first cloned camel—was born last Wednesday in Dubai. It wasn’t easy—the process took the Camel and Reproduction Centre (CRC) and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory a good five years, all to create a 66-pound baby.
Nisar Wani, a researcher at the CRC, removed DNA from cells in the ovaries from an unfortunate camel who was chopped up for meat in 2005. The salvaged DNA was then put into a surrogate mother’s egg to produce the clone, after gestating for just over a year.
We’re about to find out. Researchers in South Korea are getting ready to breed one of the world’s first cloned wolves with a male wolf clone, to test whether the genetically-engineered animals can successfully mate.
Seoul National University researcher Lee Byeong-Chun is overseeing the planned tryst between Snuwolffy (maybe it sounds better in Korean?), born in October 2005, and a male clone nearly a year her junior. Lee and his team are no neophytes when it comes to cloning: They produced the world’s first cloned dog, an Afghan named Snuppy (we refrain from judgment on the name), in 2005. Not stopping there, Snuppy then became a father, leading to the first successful breeding of two cloned dogs.
Given the precedent set by Snuppy and his mates, Lee and his team suspect that Snuwolffy and her partner won’t have any problems producing a litter of Snuwolffy-ettes.
Disco: To Satisfy Lust for Truffles, The French Will Try to Clone Them
Disco: The Top 5 “Crazy” Michael Crichton Ideas That Actually Came True
Disco: Biotech Company Selects World’s Worthiest Dog, and Wants to Clone it
Given the recent death of best-selling author and sci-fi pioneer Michael Crichton, we thought it was the perfect time to reflect on some of his most innovative and fascinating ideas…that just happened to have come true.
5. Talking Gorillas: Congo (1980) was more than just another notch into the decent-book-cum-awful-movie belt. It also highlighted what was once a novel concept: that apes could use human language to communicate. Cute little Amy, with her sign language glove (which appeared in the movie but not the book), was loosely based on Koko the gorilla, whose actual linguistic abilities continue to be debated.
Since then, there’s been Kanzi, a bonobo who “apparently has learned more than 3,000 spoken English words and can produce (by means of lexigrams) novel English sentences and comprehend English sentences he has never heard before.” Granted, those who doubted before remain unconvinced.
4. Self-Replicating Robots: In Prey (2002), Crichton created a world of self-replicating nanorobots with rudimentary intelligence and predatory instincts, who spend several hundred pages running amok and causing all sorts of mayhem.
Today, researchers have developed robots that can physically self assemble, and even produce copies of themselves. Granted, getting to that next stage—manufacturing more of themselves from raw materials—is substantially harder.
3. Superbugs from Space: Crichton’s debut novel, The Andromeda Strain (1969), terrified readers with the ultimate biohazard: a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism that infects human blood and mutates like wildfire to defy containment.
Lucky for us, the chances of the next pandemic hurling in from space are slim to none. But the book brought the concept of bio-safety levels to far more advanced heights. As for the next great bug, not only have we created antibiotic-resistant superbugs here on Earth, we’ve also discovered that some strains become more virulent when sent into space. (Though fear not: They become far less deadly once they’ve made the journey home.)
The FDA has finally ruled that food from cloned animals is as safe as food from those produced by conventional reproduction, and will not require a special label (except, perhaps, in California). The 968-page report, released Tuesday, details these peer-reviewed findings, which also conclude that cloning does not pose any unique risks to the animals, compared with other reproductive techniques.
But cloned meat and dairy still won’t be available at the supermarket for a while—the USDA is asking for a “voluntary moratorium” on sales to allow the consumer marketplace to get over their revulsion towards genetic modification. This “ick” factor, which seems to dominate the arguments against cloned meat, may stem largely from misunderstanding the cloning process.