Scientists at a Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONE) in Hyderabad are continuing their efforts to clone a rabbit and hope to get assistance from Iran to fulfill their ambitious goal – to clone a cheetah. This is the country’s first animal cloning bid, and the LaCONE scientists, of the prestigious Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), want to clone a laboratory animal before working on their dream project.
It has been over a decade that the scientists at CCMB are talking of cloning a cheetah to revive a species that became extinct in India more than four decades ago.
The efforts by Indian authorities to persuade Iran to donate a pair of live cheetahs or at least its sperm and tissue samples have not yielded the desired results.
CCMB director Lalji Singh, however, has not lost hope.
“We hope that we will still be able to convince Iran to help in the project,” Singh told newspersons Friday.
Singh had made a request to then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami when he visited CCMB in January 2003.
Cheetahs are the fastest animals on earth capable of running up to 95 km an hour. They were once found in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
The cheetah became extinct in India in 1962 because of large-scale hunting.
Iran is the only country where a close relative of the extinct Indian cheetah is found.
Singh, the first scientist in India to use DNA fingerprinting to solve criminal cases, will be talking to a group of Iranian scientists scheduled to visit Hyderabad for a joint meeting with their Indian counterparts on stem cell research in November.
He hopes that the discussions between the scientists would prove fruitful.
Singh, however, said the institute was not pursuing seriously the idea to obtain a live animal from Iran. International organizations have told CCMB that a cheetah could not be shifted from Iran because India has no natural habitat where the animal can be released.
“We will try to get stem cells from Iran. We want to have a tissue bank where frozen tissues can be stored. This facility is still under construction,” he said.
The scientists plan to take the genes from live cheetah cells and fuse it with empty leopard eggs. Any resulting embryos would then be carried in leopard surrogates.
Singh said there was also an offer of collaboration with South Africa on cheetah cloning.
“One day it (cloning) will be done. I don’t know whether we will be able to fulfill this in my lifetime,” said Singh.
The eminent scientist said they were still trying to master the cloning technology and admitted that skilled manpower and resources were required for the project.
“We need to train people. It is a multi-step process,” he said, and pointed out that the success rate in cloning is only 0.5 percent.
Inaugurated early this year, LaCONE is working to conserve endangered animals through biotechnological interventions. It monitors genetic variation by modern techniques such as DNA fingerprinting, cloning and fertility analysis based on semen profiles and hormonal profiles to facilitate captive breeding.
On Friday, the laboratory announced producing a black buck through artificial insemination without surgery. Scientists claimed that this was the first time in the world that artificial insemination was done through non-invasive method.