Jurassic Park!

It’s a sad day*. Scientists have failed to clone an extinct goat. The Big Idea was to bring the Pyrenean ibex back to life. Once a resident of the mountain ranges of the Iberian peninsula, it died out in 2000, but luckily they had one in the freezer called Celia and used skin cells taken from her ear to make a new one. Unfortunately, according to the story in today’s Independent, “the newborn kid resulting from the cloning attempt died within minutes of birth as a result of breathing difficulties.”

Previous attempts to clone the ibex from skin cells stored in liquid nitrogen failed in 2003 with two pregnancies that ended prematurely during the first two months.But they’re nothing if not tenacious, these cloning enthusiasts at the University of Zaragoza in northern Spain, and all is not lost: “The cloning and pregnancy using the egg cells of domestic goats, which also acted as surrogate mothers, demonstrated that it may one day be possible to bring back extinct species with the help of closely related animals which have not died out.” Hooray!

Here comes the science bit: the latest attempt involved the creation of 439 ibex-goat hybrid cloned embryos made by inserting the cell nuclei of the ibex’s skin cells into the egg cells of domestic goats which had their own cell nuclei removed. Of these cloned embryos, 57 were transferred into surrogate mothers and seven resulted in pregnancies, but only one goat gave birth and the newborn clone died after seven minutes as a result of lung deformities. (I bet they were on a giddy high for those seven minutes, sweating and cackling at the tops of their voices, shouting, “It’s alive! It’s a-live!” as lightning flashed overhead.)

I’ve scanned the article and it doesn’t even say that the cloning experiment may be the first step towards curing all known diseases, as it usually does. They seem to be doing it for its own sake. At least they’re honest.

And here’s the best bit: “The failure of the experiment is a setback for scientists who believe it may be possible to use cloning technology to bring back more exotic species, such as the mammoth and the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger.”

Paging Dr Hammond! Paging Dr Hammond! (I hope they kept a few of Michael Crichton’s ear cells in the fridge.)

*It’s a sad day because I have to read the Independent, as it appears to be the only newspaper they offer at the hotel I’m in.


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