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5-Animals: Cloned Javan banteng calves born in the U.S.

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TITLE:  Bouncing Banteng Born To Iowa Cow
        First Healthy Clone of An Endangered Species
SOURCE: The Washington Post, USA, by Rick Weiss
DATE:   Apr 8, 2003

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Bouncing Banteng Born To Iowa Cow
First Healthy Clone of An Endangered Species

Scientists have for the first time created a healthy clone of an
endangered species, offering powerful evidence that cloning technology
can play a role in preserving and even reconstituting threatened and
endangered species.

The clone -- a cattlelike creature known as a Javan banteng, native to
Asian jungles -- was grown from a single skin cell taken from a captive
banteng before it died in 1980. The cell was one of several that had
remained frozen in a vial at the San Diego Zoo until last year, when they
were thawed as part of an experimental effort to make cloned banteng embryos.

Scientists transferred dozens of such embryos to the wombs of standard
beef cows in Iowa last fall, and the first baby banteng clone was born
April 1 after gestating for a standard 91/2 months.

"It let out this big bellow and everybody cheered," said Robert Lanza, a
scientist with Advanced Cell Technology, a Worcester, Mass., company that
collaborated in the project with the Zoological Society of San Diego and
a high-tech cattle reproduction company in Iowa.

"It was so surreal," Lanza said. "There we are, out at this farm in the
middle of Iowa, and this beef cow is giving birth to this exotic animal
that normally lives in the bamboo forests of Asia."

A second cloned banteng was born two days later to another cow on the
same research farm, but was in poor health yesterday and its prospects
remained uncertain -- a reminder that scientists still have a lot to
learn before mammalian cloning becomes routine.

The only other member of an endangered species ever cloned -- a
cattlelike Asian gaur, born in January 2001 -- died of an infection less
than two days after birth. By contrast, the first-born banteng "is doing
beautifully," Lanza said. "It's a beautiful, adorable creature."

Bantengs, which as adults sport enormous horns and can weigh as much as
1,800 pounds, once roamed in large numbers through the bamboo forests of
Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and other Asian nations. Hunting and habitat
destruction have reduced their numbers by more than 80 percent in the
past 20 years. Today they have vanished from much of their old range, and
only 3,000 to 5,000 remain worldwide.

Most worrisome to conservationists, only a handful of large herds remain,
so the animals are at risk of becoming dangerously inbred. That's where
the cloners hope to help.

The stored cells were from a male banteng that died at the San Diego Wild
Animal Park before it had a chance to mate, depriving the small captive
population there of the genetic diversity it could have added.

Lanza and his colleagues combined some of the banteng's preserved skin
cells with ordinary cow eggs whose own DNA had been removed, a standard
method for making cloned embryos. When the embryos were six days old, the
team shipped them by overnight mail to Trans Ova Genetics in Sioux
Center, Iowa -- a company that makes genetically engineered cows that
produce drugs and other biomedical products in their milk.

Scientists there transferred 45 of the banteng embryos to 30 cows. Two
pregnancies made it to term, and the two bantengs were delivered by
Caesarean section.

The goal is to ship them to the wild animal park, allow them to mature
for six years, then mate them with captive banteng cows.

"This will bring in portions of the banteng lineage that aren't otherwise
available for breeding," said Oliver Ryder, chief geneticist at the
Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species at the Zoological Society
of San Diego, which operates the zoo and wild animal park.

Ryder emphasized that cloning is just one of several "tools" available to
conservationists -- none of which is as important, he said, as preserving
natural habitat.

"The best way to save species is to save them in their habitat," Ryder
said. "This is not to find a shortcut or dispose of the pressing need to
save species in their own ecosystems. But it could be used to prolong the
persistence of small populations and enhance their ability to be healthy,
and ultimately contribute to reintroduction efforts."