In a world first, a Przewalski’s Horse was cloned from a stallion that died in 1998. His name’s Kurt!
Also, it’s pronounced “shuh-VAL-skees”
The world’s first successfully cloned endangered Przewalski’s horse was born on August 6, 2020. Revive & Restore, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and ViaGen Equine collaborated to clone from a cell line of a genetically important stallion that had been cryopreserved since 1980.
This is highly important to conservationists, because:
Today’s Przewalski’s horses, of which there are now approximately 2,000, are descendants of just 12 individuals saved from extinction in the early 1900s.
If you’re wondering how a clone from an inbred line can bring genetic diversity back into a population:
Genetic rescue is one strategy to reduce the negative impact of inbreeding by introducing individuals from unrelated populations. But for the Przewalski’s horse, there are no unrelated populations to draw from. However, forward-thinking conservationists saved living cells from over a dozen Przewalski’s horses and cryopreserved them at the SDZG Frozen Zoo. These cell lines contain genetic diversity that has been lost to recent generations.
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. Now that the genetic variation from Kuporovic “lives” again in Kurt, Kurt may become the most important horse in the North American captive breeding population. He may also become the first cloned animal to restore lost genetic variation to its species.
And why Kurt, you may ask?
Kurt is named in honor of Dr. Kurt Benirshke, a geneticist at the San Diego Zoo who in 1975 had a prescient idea. Dr. Benirshke began what is now the Frozen Zoo, collecting and cryopreserving the cell lines of endangered species and safely storing away genetic diversity before it was lost. At the time the collection was a bet on cloning and reproductive technologies that did not yet exist. Nearly fifty years later, with the partnership of San Diego Zoo Global Frozen Zoo, Revive & Restore, and ViaGen Pets and Equine, Dr. Benirschke’s plans are quite literally coming to life.