This is a picture of a cloned jungle cat according to China Daily. The online newspaper reports that researchers at Qingdao Agricultural University in Shandong Province succeeded in cloning a “big cat” for the first time. The first point to make is that the jungle cat is not a big cat but a small wild cat species not much bigger than a domestic cat. But that’s a minor point. And I am assuming that they are referring to this species rather than a cat that lives in the jungle generically.
The University is the first in China to clone a cat using a technique called “somatic cell nuclear transfer”. The word “somatic” means the cells of the body except sperm cells and egg cells i.e. reproductive cells. So these are ordinary cells from a cat’s body and in this instance they took the cells from the skin of a jungle cat.
The owner of the cat allowed the researchers to remove a piece of skin the size of a fingernail. From the skin they grew many more cells. The cells were kept in a container of liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196°C. They then acquired a cell in an ovary called an oocyte. They removed a nucleus and replaced it with one of the somatic cells from the jungle cat. They used in vitro maturation.
I don’t understand the process as it is highly technical but my research indicates that in 2008 a California company reported that they had cloned human embryos from DNA taken from adult skin cells. I think this is the same process. They were able to turn skin cells into embryonic stem cells.
Returning to the cloned jungle cat story, the embryos formed were transferred to a surrogate mother who carried the embryo to term. You can see the surrogate mother in the photograph behind the cloned jungle cat. She appears to be an ordinary tabby-and-white domestic cat.
The purpose of the research and the creation of a cloned feline is to study animal diseases and develop new drugs. They also say that it will help to protect endangered species. The last phrase interests me as I regret to say that traditional Chinese medicine is responsible for the edangerment of many iconic species of animal including the tiger, lin, rhinoceros, pangolin and others. Many tiger body parts are used in Chinese medicine. For someone like me it is a medicine based on superstition and not hard science and is therefore dangerous and misguided.
So on the one hand they are trying to practice conservation of animal species while on the other hand assisting in killing them off. A bit odd, if you don’t mind me saying so.