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The Reproductive Biology Laboratory aims to increase basic knowledge and enhance genetic management and conservation of rare animal species. Scientific staff study reproductive biology and behavior and develop innovative methods to encourage species reproduction and to increase basic knowledge and enhance genetic management and conservation of rare animal species.
These methods include:
- ova, semen and embryo collection, evaluation and cryopreservation
- artificial insemination
- in vitro oocyte growth, maturation and fertilization
- hormonal induction of estrus and ovulation to stimulate natural breeding
Major foci of the Reproductive Biology Laboratory are:
- propagation of small, exotic cat species using the domestic house cat as a surrogate
- Bongo baby and mom antelope interspecies embryo transfer using common antelope as surrogates for endangered antelope
Audubon's Scientific Team responsible for these groundbreaking procedures include:
- C. Earle Pope, PhD
- Stanley Leibo, PhD
- Martha Gomez, DVM, PhD
- Cherie Dumas
- Gemechu Wirtu, DVM, PHD
Nuclear Transfer (Cloning)
- African Wildcat Clones Produce Kittens (August 2005)
- First Female Wildcat Clones (April 2004
- Wildcat Cloning Replicated (Nov 2003)
- First Endangered Feline Cloned (Aug 2003)
The world’s first cloned endangered African wildcat was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. The cat was born as a result of groundbreaking research conducted at Audubon Nature Institute scientists from Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species and Louisiana State University.
The kitten is the first cloned wild carnivore. Born to a common domestic house cat on August 6, 2003, the kitten was created using frozen/thawed genetic material from the African wildcat Jazz, who was also born to a domestic cat, but as a result of a different kind of procedure, the first successful in vitro fertilized frozen/thawed embryo transfer. The birth of Jazz in November, 1999, at Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species made headlines around the world.
In addition, researchers at Audubon Research Center are announcing the birth of the world’s first caracal cat created from a frozen/thawed embryo. The kitten, created from an IVF procedure where the frozen/thawed embryo was transferred to a surrogate mother caracal, was born September 6, 2003.
Cloning and other assisted reproduction technologies can benefit endangered species by increasing the potential of boosting their numbers, preserving and propagating species that reproduce poorly in zoos. This will help to maintain genetic diversity of endangered species. Cloning can introduce new genes back into the gene pool of species that have few remaining animals. In addition, freezing this genetic material in the Frozen Zoo can keep the cells viable for an indefinite period of time.
“Here in Louisiana, scientists are growing ever closer to unlocking the secrets that could make extinction extinct,” said Ron Forman, President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute of New Orleans. “These are significant births representing important steps in our understanding of how technology can be engaged to help save endangered species. Audubon Nature Institute is proud to be a pioneer in this area, and proud of our partnerships, like that with Louisiana State University, which enable us to continue this innovative work.”
The cloning project is being conducted at Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species by Dr. C. Earle Pope, Senior Scientist, Audubon Nature Institute and Dr. Martha C Gomez, Senior Staff Scientist, Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species. The research program is under the direction of Audubon Nature Institute and Virginia Kock/Audubon Nature Institute Endowed Chair in Species Survival and Conservation at the University of New Orleans. Dr. Bob MacLean serves as staff veterinarian at the research center.
To create the cloned embryo, scientists took tissue samples from the male African wildcat, Jazz. These cells were grown in tissue culture to provide a supply of thousands of cells, each with the wildcat’s DNA. The cells were frozen in the Frozen Zoo. Then, DNA was removed from an egg of a domestic cat. Frozen-thawed cells from Jazz were inserted into the domestic cat egg cells. The egg was exposed to an electric current, causing the new DNA to fuse with the egg, which divided to become an embryo. The embryo was then implanted into the uterus of a domestic cat surrogate, who went on to have a normal pregnancy before giving birth to the cloned kitten.
Drs. Pope and Gomez achieved this milestone through persistence and teamwork. Technology alone will not be enough to save endangered species, but it’s impossible to win the battle against extinction without it. Now we have new tools we can use to keep hope alive for species facing dramatically dwindling numbers. Working with all the resources we have at our disposal, we have a chance to rescue animals from the brink of extinction.
The kitten, named Ditteaux, was born to domestic cat Brooke. The kitten was cared for and nursed by the surrogate mother. Jazz, the headline-grabbing African wildcat, continues to live at Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans. His surrogate mother, domestic cat Cayenne, was adopted by Dr. Pope. The two wildcats who donated the sperm and egg to create Jazz are living at the research center as well.