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5-Animals: Cloning used to save Australia's rarest mammal

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TITLE:  Cloning used to save Australia's rarest mammal
SOURCE: Environment News Service
DATE:   June 7, 1999

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Cloning Used to Save Australia's Rarest Mammal

CLAYTON, Victoria, Australia, (ENS) - In the laboratory of Dr.
Monique Wolvekamp, the use of cloning to save endangered species
is not just a theory - it is being used to rescue the Northern
Hairy-nosed wombat of Australia from extinction. This wombat,
Australia's rarest mammal species, is extremely endangered with
only 80 animals left in the wild and none in captivity. Dr.
Wolvekamp works at the Institute of Reproduction and Development,
a medical research institution that is part of the Faculty of
Medicine at Monash University. The Institute promotes the
application of its research to benefit the preservation of the
world's endangered species as well as the reproductive health of
women and men, the growth and development of babies and children,
and the development of Australia's agricultural industry. She
sees cloning as, "a novel assisted reproductive technology to
save an endangered species from extinction." Dr. Wolvekamp has
just started working on a novel research project in which she and
her team hope to use the cloning approach "nuclear transfer" to
save the endangered wombat.

"The animals are currently extensively monitored/captured for a
long term monitoring study, and the earbiopsy - taken while
eartagging the animals for other purposes - is processed till
cryopreserved fibroblasts are obtained in our laboratory," Dr.
Wolvekamp explains. "We subsequently hope to use nuclear transfer
to create Northern Hairy nosed wombat embryos using egg cells
from the more Common Wombats," she says. Those egg cells are
obtained during roadkills. There are pros and cons to cloning as
a means of preserving a species, Dr. Wolvekamp says. "The clear
pro of cloning is that you would be able to recreate a species
from a preserved cell line (such as fibroblast cell line or
another somatic cell) and you don't need cryopreserved sperm of
this species." "With recent developments, a universal recipient
would even make the necessity of an egg cell of the specific
species no longer essential."

The recent developments she refers to were accomplished at the
University of Hawaii during the past year. There researchers
Teruhiko Wakayama and Ryuzo Yanagimachi demonstrated that mammals
can be cloned from non-reproductive cells by cloning a male
mammal, a mouse, for the first time. Previous mammalian clones,
including the famous sheep named Dolly, were produced using cells
from the female reproductive system. The Hawaiian researchers
used the Honolulu Technique of replacing the genetic information
in an egg cell with the nucleus of a donor cell from another
individual. As to the cons of cloning, in the view of Dr.
Wolvekamp they are technical rather than ethical. She says, "You
will have to clone several animals in able to increase the
genetic variety enough. So you shouldn't use a series of cloned
animals in a breeding program because you would like to maintain
increase the genetic variety of a species. However, one cloned
animal can be used for one population and "the same" cloned
animal for a second population.

Wombat burrow

The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), a
marsupial that carries its young in a pouch, has only ever been
found in three places - near Deniliquin in New South Wales, on
the Moonie River near St. George in southern Queensland and at
Epping Forest near Clermont in central Queensland, according to
the Australian Nature Conservation Agency. This wombat is listed
as critically endangered by the World Conservation Monitoring
Centre (IUCN). The last known colony of between 60 and 70 animals
is restricted to 300 hectares in Epping Forest National Park in
central Queensland. The national park was established in 1971 to
protect the habitat of the only known colony of Northern Hairy
nosed Wombats. Before cattle were removed from Epping Forest in
1982, wombat numbers had dropped to about 35 animals. The habitat
in Epping Forest reserved for these wombats is now fenced to keep
out cattle and sheep. They live in burrows called warrens that
are long tunnels with many entrances and exits. The number of
Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats fell in the past because their
habitat was damaged, severe droughts occurred and they had to
compete with cattle, sheep and rabbits for food. These wombats
can grow to about 13 inches tall, three feet in length and weigh
from 42 to 68 pounds. The name, Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat,
comes from its distinctive muzzle which is covered with short
brown hairs.

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