Being the last of his kind, the death of the Giant Galapagos tortoise nicknamed "Lonesome George" meant the end of a line that goes back thousands of years. Now, scientists say there is a possibility to use frozen cells taken from Lonesome George shortly after his death at Pinta Island, Galapagos, and clone the reptile using procedures similar to those that allowed the replication of Dolly, the sheep, according to The Telegraph
Scientists at the Frozen Zoo (San Diego Zoo Global
), a conservation institution (video above) that handles frozen genetic material from different animals for conservation, traveled to Ecuador at the time of hearing about George’s death
and collected samples of the animal to preserve them in liquid nitrogen (-196 C).
Pinta Island, also known as Abingdon Island, is the northernmost island of the Galapagos Archipelago and it was George's home until his death. Lonesome George was the last of its kind, the subspecies Geochelone nigra abingdoni
. Lacking female turtles of his subspecies to breed with, experts tried to get the animal to mate
with females of a different sub-species (Geochelone nigra becki
), deemed to be genetically closest to Lonesome George. Those attempts did not succeed. George died without siring descendants.
Frozen Zoo specialists collected tissue samples from George’s body which were kept frozen. The scientists believe that now they know how to proceed in the process of cloning Lonesome George from the cells preserved in frozen storage, reports SMH.com.au
The technique for cloning vertebrate species is still at an early stage. However, it has already been applied in several animal species whose biology is known in detail, including fish (carp), cats, dogs and farm animals such as cows and sheep. The most recent cloned animal is Noorie, a Pashmina goat cloned by scientists in Kashmir, India, reported in March, 2012