Can Indian geneticists revive Asiatic cheetah?

A few days ago, when scientists inched closer to reviving an Australian frog species that has been extinct for the last 30 years, they also revived the world’s fascination for De-extinction – a concept that walks the thin line between science fiction and reality. Bringing to life species that have been wiped off the face of earth is a dream many geneticists have pursued for years.

“If India were to aggressively pursue it, there are at least three extinct species that can get a shot at coming back for the dead” says Sandeep Sharma of the Washington based Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“High on the list is the Asiatic Cheetah that went extinction in India soon after Independence. The others are the pink-headed duck and the maintain quail. There are a few pre-historic species, too, but then it might get too ambitious.”

Indian geneticists have been attempting to clone the Asiatic Cheetah – a favorite animal of the Mughal emperor Akbar who reportedly has an army of 1000 cheetahs accompany him on his hunting expeditions. But efforts to recreate the majestic predator have encountered several roadblocks. “The biggest hurdle is procuring the cell-line of the cheetah and defining protocols for somatic cell transfer. Once this happens, we have a realistic chance of reviving the cheetah in India,” says S Shivaji of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hydrabad.

Somatic cell transfer involves creating a clone embryo with a donor nucleus in a laboratory and is considered as the first step in reproductive cloning. India has recently imported a few cheetahs whose cell lines, says Shivaji, CCMB is trying to get. After that, it would be a case of attempting again and again – success rates in reproductive cloning are just about 5% till an Asiatic cheetah cub is born.

Asiatic-Cheetah-by-Ghoddousi-HRNobody knows when this might happen. “We are still not sure what factors combine together to create the 5% success rate,” says Shivaji.

De-extinction itself is a subject that has drawn diverse opinions. Those opposing it says that is a species went extinct over a period of time – Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest propounds this is nature’s way of balancing itself – is it prudent to re-introduce it in an ecosystem where some other species may have taken over it role? Ulhas Karanth of Wildlife Conservation Society says it makes no sense at all. “De-extinction is unlikely to work because factors that caused the original extinction continue to operate”.

However, De-extinction proponents continue to be gung-ho about its prospects. “It should not be an either/or question,” says Ryan Phelan, executive director of Us NGO Revive & Restore which recently organized a much publicized conference on the subject along with National Geographic and TED. “It’s really an all one continuum. What’s good for extinct species will be great for endangered ones”.

If man does succeed in playing god, it might just be Jurassic Park all over again, hopefully minus the horror.

Courtesy: – Times of India.

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