Sunday, May 28, 2023

A genetic Noah’s ark to save us from extinction

At the end of last year the first lambs were born at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in vitro Manchegan race. The project opens the door to using assisted reproduction for various purposes, such as improving the breed in a very short time. Thus, a sheep could have up to ten young in a year, eight more than it would surely have naturally. And she could do it even before reaching puberty, since laboratory techniques allow her eggs to be extracted, matured and implanted in an adult female.

conserve biodiversity

The scientific horizon of animal assisted reproduction techniques is very broad and ambitious. If the pandemic has returned to us the fear that other viruses could threaten our survival, the same is true of other species. Many, like the Iberian lynx, were already at risk before the threat of a lethal virus or climate disaster loomed over us. Faced with the danger of extinction, there are more than fifty National Germplasm Banks (BNG) in Spain that preserve frozen sperm, oocytes and embryos of dozens of wild and domestic breeds. That of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, managed by the doctor in Veterinary Medicine Pepi Soler Valls, treasures genetic material from Iberian lynx, gazelle, deer, bison, fighting bull, bucardo or ibex, among other wild animals, but also birds such as the hawk and capercaillie, as well as autochthonous livestock species such as the Blanca Celtibérica goat breed or the Manchega sheep breed.

A species ‘resurrected’

In 2003 a team of Spanish scientists achieved a milestone: ‘de-extinguishing’ a species for the first time. It was the bucardo, a type of gigantic goat that disappeared three years before. Thanks to the gestation of a female of another species, the ibex, Celia was born, a baby bucardo that only lived for a few hours. “When the pregnant female is of another species, there is a problem that the gestation times are not the same and the young can be born immature,” explains Pepi Soler, “but preserving this genetic material makes a lot of sense for the future. Now it still sounds like science fiction to us, but research is advancing very quickly and perhaps in time we will be able to use artificial wombs for these pregnancies.“. Resurrecting species is closer than we think.

The scientist from the University of Castilla-La Mancha recalls the importance of protecting native biodiversity: “we only look at the lynx, but in Spain we have many other breeds in danger of extinction. They are breeds much more adapted to the environment and more resistant than other more recent or foreign breeds, which are more sensitive to viruses or changes in the weather. It is dramatic that we do not conserve native biodiversity“.


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