Galloping to Greatness: Meet Kurt the First Cloned Przewalski’s Horse

Kurt the first cloned Przewalsk'si horse
Kurt the foal at the Texas veterinary facility of ViaGen Equine collaborator, Timber Creek Veterinary, August 28, 2020.
Photo provided courtesy of Scott Stine.

On August 6, 2020, the first successfully cloned Przewalski’s horse was born at the Texas-based veterinary facility, Timber Creek Veterinary, along with a new hope for restoring some much-needed genetic diversity to the species. The successful birth of this foal is the culmination of the collaborative efforts between Revive & Restore, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and ViaGen Equine, and lays the groundwork as an important model for future conservation efforts.

The new Przewalski’s foal (pronounced “shuh-VAL-skees”) has been affectionately dubbed Kurt, in honor of noted animal conservationist, geneticist and pathologist, Dr. Kurt Benirschke. Dr. Benirschke played an instrumental role in founding the Frozen Zoo®, a genetic library comprised of cryopreserved cell lines of endangered species. Established in the 1970s, this collection was built on a foundation of prescient hope, banking on the future development of reproductive and cloning technologies that did not yet exist.

Now thanks to his foresight, that gamble is paying off and the fruits of that labor are literally being brought to life almost 50 years later through Kurt the foal, who is as adorable as he is important to the future of his kind.

Continue reading “Galloping to Greatness: Meet Kurt the First Cloned Przewalski’s Horse”

The Devil is in the Details: Genetic Diversity and the Endangered Tasmanian Devil

If you are of a certain age, the name “Tasmanian Devil” most likely conjures up an image of a ferocious brown hairy cartoon character that traveled in the center of a tornado of chaos. Sometimes, as in this case, the truth is much less strange than the fiction. The real Tasmanian Devils (Sarcphilus harrisii) are relatively small, somewhat cuddly looking, marsupials found only on the island of… you guessed it, Tasmania. Despite their diminutive size, they are the largest living carnivorous marsupial.  Unfortunately, these terrier-sized animals are also in danger of becoming extinct, largely as a result of a deadly, infectious transmissible cancer called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD). Continue reading “The Devil is in the Details: Genetic Diversity and the Endangered Tasmanian Devil”

Don’t Judge a Cheetah by Its Spots: New Insights into the Genetics and Evolutionary History of African and Asiatic Cheetahs

The genetics of wild cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) populations has a special significance for me. In fact, it could be said that the population genetics of cheetahs changed my life.  I first learned about the low genetic variability in cheetahs in a darkened lecture hall at Iowa State University in 1988. I was so fascinated by what I learned in those lectures about genetics and its importance in conservation efforts that I eventually changed my major to Genetics.  “The Cheetah Papers” as a colleague calls them, were, and perhaps still are, common teaching tools for biology and genetics classes. And why not? The results were amazingly cool, if a bit disturbing. Imagine a population that, through a series of natural events over thousands of years, had become so genetically similar to one another as to be almost clonal.

Still, if science teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that there is always more to the story. Continue reading “Don’t Judge a Cheetah by Its Spots: New Insights into the Genetics and Evolutionary History of African and Asiatic Cheetahs”

The Latest On: When Five Hundred Tigers Are Not Enough

Bengal tiger growling

It is sad but true that the latest news has not been promising for wild tiger populations. In September, an article published in PLoS Biology (1) estimated that the best hope of saving the wild tiger population would be to shift focus to source sites, which are “…at spatially well-defined priority sites, supported by proven best practices of law enforcement, wildlife management, and scientific monitoring.” The authors estimate the cost to save these sites at $82 million (U.S). At the time of publication, $47 million had been committed by governments and other groups. It isn’t difficult  math to figure out there is a deficit.   Continue reading “The Latest On: When Five Hundred Tigers Are Not Enough”