Uni floats cloning to save rare species

THE University of Newcastle is proposing a $40million program to use genetic technology to clone and reproduce native wildlife under threat of extinction.
Nanjing Night Net

The project could be used to save threatened frogs, birds, freshwater fish, marsupials and other vertebrates.

The university expects to learn by Christmas if a bid to the federal government to fund the program over eight years is successful.

Bid director Professor John Rodger said the funding would allow the Wildlife Biodiversity Co-operative Research Centre to be established.

It would be a consortium of 40 institutions, including universities, zoos and state agencies, which the University of Newcastle would lead.

‘‘If successful, Newcastle will be heading the major concentration of research in this area in Australia,’’ Professor Rodger said.

He said the project aimed to develop ‘‘breakthrough technology to generate offspring from stored genomes for use in frog breeding and reintroduction programs’’.

One target is the southern corroboree frog – Australia’s most critically endangered frog – of which fewer than 100 remain in the wild.

Other frogs to be targeted could include the booroolong frog and green and golden bell frog in the Hunter.

Dr John Clulow, a University of Newcastle lecturer in the school of environmental and life sciences, said the university had developed procedures using IVF technology and sperm-freezing techniques to conserve endangered frogs.

Technology the university had developed could be used in combination with cloning to generate animals, Dr Clulow said.

‘‘We’ve developed freezing technology to store embryonic cells and that’s a move forward. Then you need a way to turn those back into frogs and linking it up with cloning is the way to do it.’’

Other plans involve working with Tasmanian devils, black cockatoos in Western Australia and a range of kangaroos.

Professor Rodger said the disease that decimated the endangered Tasmanian devil ‘‘came out of left field’’.

‘‘Generally we find out too late if a species has a problem and we haven’t saved the resources,’’ he said.

The program would store sperm, eggs and other genomic resources, so ‘‘when crises occur we’re in a far better position to respond’’.

It would select species with ‘‘the best genes’’ for storage and reproduction, Professor Rodger said.

The program also aimed to reintroduce species from areas where the species’ populations were normal to depleted areas to rebuild ecosystems.

Dr Clulow said it would be like seed banks for plant conservation.

‘‘If populations collapse or go extinct in the wild, we’d have a source of material to prevent their complete extinction,’’ he said.

This technique would be much stronger than breeding in captivity, he said.

AT RISK: The Southern corroboree frog.

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