Scientists in Beijing have marked a breakthrough in global cloning efforts by successfully implanting a wolf embryo in a Beagle. The embryo was carried fully to term. The Artic wolf, grey-brown with a bushy tail, was christened Maya. In appearance, Maya does not look any different from other dog breeds.
The Arctic wolf is from the family of the grey wolf and is native to Canada’s Northern Arctic Archipelago. There does not appear to be an active extinction threat against the wolf species, as their home in the Arctic makes it difficult for them to be hunted. However, climate change may be just as dangerous as human predators. Therefore, conservation efforts are already underway, which is the reason for the cloning attempt.
The process of cloning the wolf was similar to what was followed in cloning Dolly the sheep several years before. It is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. According to reports, preliminary efforts to successfully clone the wolf began in 2020. Mi Jidong, the General Manager of Sinogene Biotechnology, where the experiment took place, said:
“To save the endangered animal, we started the research cooperation with Harbin Polarland on cloning the arctic wolf in 2020. After two years of painstaking efforts, the Arctic wolf was cloned successfully. It is the first case of its kind in the world.”
Chinese scientists first obtained skin samples from a female Arctic wolf which was retrieved from Canada and taken to China for the procedure. An elaborate process of constructing 137 new embryos followed. The scientists created the embryos from enucleated oocytes. After this, the cells from the wolf were inserted into the eggs of seven Beagles. However, before then, the content of the Beagle’s eggs was removed to contain the genetic information of the wolf. Eighty-five of the embryos that survived were then re-implanted into the uteri of the surrogate dogs.
Of the seven Beagles chosen to carry the eggs, just one made it to term. The others suffered complications that saw them lose their pregnancies at various stages. When Maya was delivered, the scientists allowed a 100-days period to elapse before announcing the breakthrough. This was in a bid not to jump the gun, especially considering how important the breakthrough was for the scientific community.
The scientists initially considered picking a female wolf as the surrogate for Maya. However, this idea was discouraged for practical reasons. Arctic wolves are rare. They are sighted a few times a season and hardly make contact with humans, even when seen. The scientists found that dogs were the next possible choice because of their availability and genial nature; it would be possible to monitor them closely. The advancement in knowledge about the physiology of dogs also made them an obvious choice. However, the deciding factor was arguably the shared genetic ancestry dogs have with wolves.
Sinogene Technology has revealed that there are plans for a second wolf clone to be successfully delivered soon. Hopefully, scientists can deploy this technology to save other wild animal species on the brink of extinction.