Clone of long-dead Przewalski’s horse offers genetic hope for endangered species

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A clone of a Przewalski’s horse whose DNA was cryopreserved 40 years ago has been born in Texas, in a major milestone for the conservation of the endangered species.

The colt foal was born on August 6 at Timber Creek Veterinary to a domestic surrogate mother. He had been cloned from a Przewalski’s horse stallion named Kuporovic who was born in 1975 in the UK, and transferred to the US in 1978. He was recorded as Stud Book number 615 and lived until 1998. His DNA was cryopreserved at the San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) Frozen Zoo, after forward-thinking conservationists saved living cells from more than dozen Przewalski’s horses.

The SB615 cell line was chosen for genetic rescue cloning because an analysis of the captive breeding pedigree revealed that the genome offers significantly more genetic variation than any living Przewalski’s horse. The species (Equus ferus) is endangered according to the IUCN Red List.

Kurt and his surrogate mother.
Kurt and his surrogate mother. © Revive & Restore / Scott Stine

The new foal has been named “Kurt” in honor of Kurt Benirschke, M.D., who was instrumental in founding the Frozen Zoo and the conservation research program at San Diego Zoo Global.

Kurt will be moved to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to be integrated into a breeding herd once he is older, providing a valuable infusion of genetic diversity for the Przewalski’s horse population.

Today’s Przewalski’s horses, of which there are now about 2000, are descendants of just 12 individuals saved from extinction in the early 1900s.

Kurt is a clone of the British-born Przewalski’s stallion Kuporovic, who died in 1998.
Kurt is a clone of the British-born Przewalski’s stallion Kuporovic, who died in 1998. © ViaGen

It is the first time this species has been cloned, and scientists indicate it could provide an important model for future conservation efforts. He is a result of a partnership between SDZG, genetics company ViaGen Equine, and Revive & Restore, whose mission is to enhance biodiversity through the genetic rescue of endangered and extinct species using advanced biotechnologies.

Revive & Restore executive director Ryan Phelan said the colt’s birth expanded the opportunity for the genetic rescue of endangered wild species.

“Advanced reproductive technologies, including cloning, can save species by allowing us to restore genetic diversity that would have otherwise been lost to time,” she said.

 

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