Chinese researchers have cloned an Arctic wolf in a “landmark” conservation project

On Monday, scientists from Beijing-based Sinogene Biotechnology unveiled a clone of a female wolf named Maya, marking 100 days since her birth on June 10.

Maya, a gray-brown cub with a bushy tail, is healthy, the company said. In a press conference, he showed videos of Maya playing and resting.

“After two years of painstaking efforts, the arctic wolf was successfully cloned. It is the first such case in the world,” company CEO Mi Jidong said at a press conference, according to Chinese state media.
The arctic wolf, also known as the white wolf or polar wolf, is a subspecies of the gray wolf found in the High Arctic tundra, in the Arctic Archipelago of northern Canada. Its conservation status — a metric used to determine how close a species is to extinction — is low risk because its Arctic habitat is far enough away from hunters, according to the World Wildlife Fund. But climate change is increasingly threatening its food supply, while human development like roads and pipelines is encroaching on its territory.
Sinogene launched the arctic wolf cloning project in 2020 in collaboration with the polar theme park Harbin Polarland, in a statement posted on the Twitter-like Weibo platform.

To create Maya, the company used a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same technique used to create the first mammalian clone, Dolly the sheep, in 1996.

First, they used a skin sample from the original arctic wolf — also called Maya, introduced to Harbin Polarland from Canada — to recover “donor cells,” which are then injected into the egg of a female dog and carried by a surrogate mother.

Scientists were able to create 85 such embryos, which were transferred to the wombs of seven beagles, resulting in the birth of a healthy arctic wolf, the newly cloned Maya, according to state media.

The company said in its Weibo post that a second cloned arctic wolf is expected to be born soon.

“Cloning technology provides a good entry point to protect endangered wild animals, which is a great contribution to protecting biodiversity,” said He Zhenming, director of the Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources of China’s National Institute of Food and Drug Control. in the Weibo post.

He added that the successful cloning of Maya “is a landmark event of great importance for the protection of the world’s wildlife and the recovery of endangered species”, according to the publication.

Sinogene said it will also begin working with the Beijing Wildlife Park to further research cloning technology and applications, as well as research into the conservation and breeding of rare and endangered animals in China.

The original Maya died of old age in 2021, according to the Global Times. The cloned Maya now lives with her surrogate beagle mother, and will later be housed at Harbin Polarland, open to the public.

Extinction crisis

This is not the first time that cloning technology has been used by conservation scientists.

In Malaysia, where every Sumatran rhino has died, scientists hope to use frozen tissue and cells to give birth to new rhinos using surrogate mothers. And in late 2020, American scientists successfully cloned an endangered wild blackfoot, once thought to be extinct worldwide.
Other scientists are opting for gene editing technology, a team in Australia is trying to edit marsupial cells to recreate its close relative, the extinct Tasmanian tiger.
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Those efforts are growing as scientists around the world race to save endangered species as Earth approaches what is believed to be its sixth mass extinction.

There have been five mass extinction events in history, each wiping out between 70% and 95% of plant, animal and microorganism species. The last time, 66 million years ago, the dinosaurs were seen to disappear.

This sixth mass extinction would be unique because it is driven by humans, who have already wiped out hundreds of species through wildlife trade, pollution, habitat loss and the use of toxic substances.

A 2020 study found that a third of all plants and animals could face extinction by 2070, and things could get even worse if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly.
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But many of these new conservation efforts have also sparked controversy, raising questions about the ethics and health implications of cloning and gene editing.

In Maya’s case, a scientist told the Global Times, more research is needed to determine whether the clone poses potential health risks. More guidelines should also be put in place to determine the appropriate use of the technology, he added — such as cloning only extinct or critically endangered species.