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Correspondent Lesley Stahl spoke with scientist Dr. Betsy Dresser about a 2006 cloning experiment in a recent episode of CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Dr. Betsy Dresser of New Orleans has successfully cloned endangered species using closely related animals as surrogate mothers.
Stahl’s interview with Dresser came during the second half of a “60 Minutes” special on animal cloning. The first half of the program focused on the possibility that extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth may be cloned from the DNA found in fossils and preserved Mammoth hairs.
Dr. Dresser believes that science should be looking forward and trying to preserve animals on their way to extinction rather than those that have been extinct for thousands of years.
At the Audubon Nature Institute Dr. Dresser and her staff have successfully cloned an endangered African wildcat. This cat was born in August 2006. Its surrogate mother was a common domestic house cat.
Dr. Dresser told “60 Minutes,” “I feel like we’re in the emergency room of the wildlife business, really. I don’t want to see elephants in textbooks the way we see dinosaurs. We’re going to lose a lot of species if we don’t do something about it.”
In order to clone an endangered animal, scientists must first find a species that is closely related to the endangered animal so it may act as a surrogate mother. A common housecat acted as the surrogate for the African wildcat. Scientists removed the eggs from the house cat, pulled out the housecat DNA and replaced it with the African wildcat’s DNA.
After the successful birth of these cloned cats, the animals went on to mate and produce natural kittens of their own. “Eight kittens altogether. We had a couple litters,” Dresser told [60 Minutes]. “Totally African wildcats, totally healthy. And it said to us, ‘Hey, this works.’ And now that we know we can do it, we can say to the world, ‘these animals do develop. They do reproduce naturally.’ And we can use this as a tool for endangered species.”
Dresser and the institute are now working to clone and reproduce other endangered animals using non-endangered surrogates. These animals include the black-footed cat, bongo, clouded leopard, fishing cat and a few more.
In a statement on their website, auduboninstitue.org, the president and CEO of the Institute Ron Forman said, “Here in Louisiana, scientists are growing ever closer to unlocking the secrets that could make extinction extinct. These are significant births representing important steps in our understanding of how technology can be engaged to help save endangered species.”
In addition to being a research facility the Audubon Nature Institute is also a zoo and aquarium. These attractions are open to the public and house an array of different animals, some endangered and some not.
The Audubon Nature Institute is dedicated to educating people and saving animals. Not only are they conducting research to save endangered animals, they also run programs such as the Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program, which work to rescue, rehabilitate and release back into their natural habitat, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
According to their website, after the 2010 oil spill Audubon and the Rescue program rescued and treated over 200 animals.
Scientists at the Institute are still working on cloning other species but have not created any clones since 2006.