Kurt, a baby Przewalski’s horse, looks and plays like any other baby horse. But the now two-month-old colt is unique in that he is a clone. The endangered Przewalski’s horse colt was created from stallion cells that had been frozen at the San Diego Zoo in 1980. The frozen cells were recently collected and fused with an egg from a domestic horse to create the world’s first cloned Przewalski’s horse.
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The process of cloning started several decades ago. In 1980, cells from a 5-year-old stallion were collected and stored at the San Diego Frozen Zoo facility. According to officials at the San Diego Zoo, the cells were merged with an egg after removing the nucleus. The egg was then implanted in a mare, who became the mother to Kurt two months ago.
The San Diego Zoo now sees the birth of the cloned horse as a huge step forward in the efforts to restore the population of Przewalski’s horses. Also known as the Asiatic Wild Horse or Mongolian Wild Horse, this species was formerly extinct in the wild and only about 2,000 are left, mostly residing in zoos. Intensive breeding programs have aided in conservation efforts but have also limited the gene pool. Zoo officials say that it is necessary to take measures that will help repopulate the endangered species. Cloning, depending on cells available in the Frozen Zoo, can help prevent genetic diversity losses.
“This colt is expected to be one of the most genetically important individuals of his species,” Bob Wiese, chief life sciences officer at San Diego Zoo Global, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that he will bring back genetic variation important for the future of the Przewalski’s horse population.”
The baby horse has been named after Kurt Benirschke, who was instrumental in founding the Frozen Zoo facility.
“A central tenet of the Frozen Zoo, when it was established by Dr. Benirschke, was that it would be used for purposes not possible at the time,” said Oliver Ryder of San Diego Zoo Global.
The cloning was made possible through a partnership among the San Diego Zoo, conservation organization Revive & Restore and genetic preservation company ViaGen Equine.
Przewalski’s horses are said to be the only truly wild horses in the world today. Although there are some horses in the wild in the U.S. and Australia, most are actually the ancestors of escaped domesticated horses. This species is named for Nikolai Przewalski, a Russian geographer who came across a horse skull and hide, then donated his findings to a museum.
Via Huffington Post
Photography by Scott Stine via San Diego Zoo