Researchers in China have cloned a wild Arctic wolf and they’re hoping the controversial genetic technology can now be used to help save other species under threat as the world edges toward an extinction crisis.
On Monday, Beijing-based company Sinogene Biotechnology unveiled the female wolf clone, named Maya by scientists, marking 100 days since she was born on June 10.
Maya, a grey-brown pup with a bushy tail, is in healthy condition, said the company. During a news conference, videos were shown of Maya playing and resting.
“After two years of painstaking efforts, the arctic wolf was cloned successfully. It is the first case of its kind in the world,” said Mi Jidong, the company’s general manager, at the news conference, reported by Chinese state media.
The Arctic wolf, also known as the white wolf or polar wolf, is a subspecies of grey wolf native to the High Arctic tundra, in Canada’s northern Arctic Archipelago. Its conservation status – the metric used to determine how close a species is to extinction, is considered low risk, since its Arctic habitat is remote enough to evade hunters, according to the World Wildlife Fund. But climate change is increasingly threatening its food supply, while human development like roads and pipelines are encroaching on its territory.
Sinogene launched its Arctic wolf cloning project in 2020, in collaboration with the polar theme park Harbin Polarland, it reported in a statement posted on the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
In creating Maya, the company used a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same technique used to create the first-ever mammal clone, Dolly the sheep, in 1996. The company said in its Weibo post that a second cloned arctic wolf is expected to be born soon.
“Cloning technology provides a good entry point for the protection of endangered wild animals, which is a great contribution to the protection of biodiversity,” said He Zhenming, director of the Institute for Laboratory Animal Resources of China’s National Institute for Food and Drug Control. He added that the successful cloning of Maya was a “landmark event, for wildlife protection and the restoration of endangered species”.
Sinogene said it will also begin working with the Beijing Wildlife Park to research more cloning technology and applications, as well as conducting research on the conservation and breeding of rare and endangered animals in China.
The original Maya died of old age in 2021, according to Global Times. The cloned Maya is now living with her beagle surrogate mother, and will later be housed in Harbin Polarland, open to the public.