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Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

Posted February 16, 2011 10:10 AM by SavvyExacta

An equine mare gave birth to a Grant's zebra. A Holstein dairy cow gave birth to a gaur (see photo). Two domestic sheep lambed Sardinian sheep. No, this isn't the latest video game; embryo transfer among members of the same species is hoped to be used to preserve endangered wildlife.

What is Interspecies Embryo Transfer?

The "zorse," or offspring of male zebra and female horse, is nothing new –it is an interspecies hybrid. Embryo transfer between two equine species is different because the equine mare that carries the zebra does not change the zebra into a horse. The zebra is born all zebra.

This is different from cloning as the zebra's egg cell is not stripped of its DNA; rather, a ten-day-old embryo is removed from a pregnant zebra and implanted in the womb of an equine mare. Zebras and horses have similar gestation periods of 11 months; the mare that carried the baby zebra foaled at 366 days.

Cornell University worked on a similar technique in the 1990s. Non-surgical embryo collection techniques were developed for domesticated ferrets for use with endangered black-footed ferrets. Their offspring would be delivered by domesticated ferrets.

Preservation via the Frozen Zoo

The frozen zoo isn't a habitat for animals from cold places around the world. It's a storage facility used to preserve genetic materials such as DNA, sperm, eggs, and embryos. There are fewer than a dozen such storage facilities throughout the world, including Frozen Zoo at San Diego Zoo Conservation Research and the United Arab Emirates Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife.

Genetic material is stored for both extinct and endangered animals. Some examples include:

  • Bongo antelope
  • Sumatran tiger
  • Eland
  • Jabiru stork
  • Arabian wildcat
  • African elephant
  • Asian elephant
  • Baird's tapir
  • Tasmanian tiger
  • Mammoth

What are your thoughts? Should genetic material of endangered or extinct species be preserved for future use? Should it be placed in other species when a species cannot support reproduction on its own?

Resources:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,951118,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frozen_zoo

http://www.omahazoo.com/conservation/reproductive-sciences/national-projects/gaur-assisted-reproduction/ [image]

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#1

Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/16/2011 10:53 AM

"...a ten-day-old embryo is removed from a pregnant zebra and implanted in the womb of an equine mare." Why not just let the zebra carry to term?

Is the idea to breed until impregnated (or maybe AI), remove the embryo, wait a short time and repeat with a different surrogate?

"Should genetic material of endangered or extinct species be preserved for future use? Should it be placed in other species when a species cannot support reproduction on its own?" Would this placement of genetic material from an extinct species still be Interspecies Embryo Transfer?

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/16/2011 11:23 AM

"Is the idea to breed until impregnated (or maybe AI), remove the embryo, wait a short time and repeat with a different surrogate?"

According to the Time article, the cycle of flushing the embryo and implanting it elsewhere could be repeated up to 10 times a year. So a zebra could "have" 10 foals per year instead of one.

"Would this placement of genetic material from an extinct species still be Interspecies Embryo Transfer?"

If an embryo was stored. Other material is also frozen - depending on what is used to create an animal, it could also be artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, or cloning.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/16/2011 11:57 AM

Well, fair enough.

This is certainly interesting. Here we discuss zebra and horses (which are species not requiring preservation, but are good test subjects). An animal that comes to mind as a likely candidate species for preservation is the Giant Panda. This animal, sadly, does not appear to be a good candidate for Interspecies Embryo Transfer.

The Giant Panda is the only genus in the ursid subfamily Ailuropodinae. Are there any likely surrogates? In addition, only one estrus cycle per year occurs.

Sometimes, mother nature is difficult to trick.

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#4
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Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/16/2011 3:14 PM

According to the Time article a non-endangered type of zebra was used as a test for future use on some rare types of zebras:

  • "Foster deliberately selected an unendangered Grant's zebra (pop. more than 300,000) for his initial experiment. With the newborn's safe arrival last week, however, the scientists will attempt to repeat the experiment with embryos of such rare types of zebras as Grevy's (pop. 15,000), Hartmann's mountain (7,000) and Cape mountain (200)."

"The Giant Panda is the only genus in the ursid subfamily Ailuropodinae. Are there any likely surrogates?"

I did a quick Google search and it doesn't look like there are any other surrogates for giant pandas other than giant pandas. This article (CTRL+F panda to find the part I'm referring to) suggests that a chimera could be used - so it may be possible someday. This is getting a little outside of my limited knowledge on the subject.

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#6
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Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/17/2011 1:48 AM

A chimera isn't an actual animal. It is a condition... relating to the non-standard number of cells and embryos that form the animal in the womb. A panda can be a chimera. But unfortunately that doesn't really help with the original problem of finding a suitable surrogate. That would still be a panda.

I feel this research is fascinating, and well worth the effort. We humans have destroyed so many. It is time we reversed the trend and help some come back.

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#5

Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/16/2011 4:27 PM

This is an intriguing technique that could be very worthwhile in some circumstances, especially in preserving rare species.

In the particular case of pandas, bears might be too far away genetically to be good hosts. Raccoons are closer, but the size difference might present problems (how big is a newborn panda?)

Over time, sort of a matrix could be developed to track which embryos can do well within which hosts.

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#7
In reply to #5

Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/17/2011 7:45 AM

OOOOO A WOOLY MAMOTH!

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#8
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Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/17/2011 12:34 PM

New born pandas are about 5" long. Unlikely that a natural birth could occur from a raccoon. If the genetic match was close enough, a c-section would be needed; not to mention what the actual womb size of a raccoon is. I don't believe it would work. If anything, they would likely have to be born premature. But in any case, the raccoon is not the closest relative. Taxanomically, the Red Panda would be between the Giant Panda, and the Raccoon. Unfortunately, the Red Panda is not close enough either. The only reason the Red Panda and the Giant Panda share the word "panda" is because they both are voracious bamboo eaters. After that, the similarity mostly ends.

No, I think the Giant Panda won't be able to benefit from this technology, directly. They are the Last of the Mohicans of their genus... unless we first clone the Ailurarctos and bring that primal panda back from extinction.

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#9
In reply to #8

Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/17/2011 1:20 PM

I agree, the Giant Panda as a species will probably not benefit from this.

With the animal only coming into estrus once a year and a 6 month gestation, the pandas will have to take care it themselves. Nature's way, I suppose.

There seem to be many other candidate species, though. I simply mentioned the panda because I have an acquantaince who holds the cuddly looking bear cousins near and dear to her heart.

Another interesting discussion topic SavvyExacta. Thank you.

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#10

Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/17/2011 6:09 PM

I have been thinking. I hope someone may have an idea about this.

Lets consider the endangered black-footed ferrets mentioned in the blog. A successful transplant occurs, and the young are brought to term by a surrogate domestic ferret. When born, the young will have to stay with the birth mother for a while (until weaned, anyway). Will not the habits of domestication imprint into the youngsters? Can they be released and expect to survive? Or are they destined to live in a zoo?

This scenario is equally applicable to Bongo antelope, Sumatran tiger, Eland, Arabian wildcat, African elephant, Asian elephant, or Baird's tapir. Not too sure any of this really applies to a Jabiru stork...

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#11
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Re: Preserving Species: Interspecies Embryo Transfer

02/17/2011 6:27 PM

You are correct. They would not have all of the survival skills that normally reared black footed ferrets have. When released, they are released into a somewhat controlled environment, and must be encouraged and taught some of their hunting skills. They are provided with every opportunity to learn these skills. i.e. being given freshly killed prairie dogs in the beginning, then being exposed to prairie dog colonies, etc. But at some point you can only hope for the best. In the end, natural selection takes its course, and those that adapt, survive. The slow learners... not so much. Following generations, of course, learn from their parents.

Of course, they are carniverous ferrets. Their instinct to hunt will always be there, regardless. It's just not as "complete" if they are weaned by domestic ferrets.

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