More than ten years after Dolly the sheep was created, scientists in Britain are to clone the northern white rhino, one of the world’s rarest animals, in a bid to save the species from being extinct.
The revolutionary cloning method, already tested on laboratory rodents, mixes the skin cells of a northern white rhino in captivity with the embryos of a close cousin, the southern white rhino – the resulting offspring would be "chimeras" with a mixture of cells from both sub-species.
The technique involves altering a few regulatory genes, which has the effect of "reprogramming" the adult skin cells back to an embryonic state so that it can then develop into any of the specialised tissues of the body -including the germ-line cells that give rise to sperm and eggs.
According to the researchers at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh, some of the cloned animals would actually grow up to produce the sperm and eggs of the northern white rhino thereby boosting the dwindling gene pool of the species.
"The new technique is more promising and practical than the cloning method we used in the famous breakthrough (Dolly) more than 10 years ago," one of the researchers Ian Wilmut, who led the team that cloned ‘Dolly’, was quoted by The Independent newspaper as saying.