The Telegraph UK has reported that researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and San Diego Zoo have collaborated to create stem cells from the skin cells of a dead drill monkey, an endangered monkey native to Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Cameroon.
The scientists, speaking at the International Society for Stem Cell Research in San Francisco, hope that the “induced pluripotent stem” (iPS) cells thus created can then be biochemically persuaded into becoming sperm and egg cells. They can then be implanted into the womb of another monkey, and will hopefully form a viable fetus.
San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo project has taken samples from 8,400 individuals of more than 800 species. It is hoped that these samples can be used in IVF programs to improve captive breeding projects. Jeane Loring, one of the Scripps researchers, claimed:
“You could actually breed from animals that are dead.”
While the process is being used on endangered species, it would be technically possible to use it for extinct animals, using surrogate mothers from other species.
Last year, for the first time, an extinct animal — the Pyrenean ibex — was cloned using skin samples and the eggs of a domestic goat. The ibex died shortly after birth. Other researchers have been trying to recover intact DNA from frozen woolly mammoths in the hope of resuscitating the long dead species, although this has not so far been successful.