Dubai: Sweeping aside the reservations of cynics, Injaz, the world’s first cloned camel, not only celebrated her sixth birthday at the Reproductive Biotechnology Centre in Nad Al Sheba, Dubai, but showed off her baby bump. Her first calf is due at the end of this year.
The joyous occasion was marked with a special cake that was cut by Dr Nisar Ahmad Wani, Scientific Director of the Centre, along with his team who fed a slice to the doe-eyed beauty.
The Centre, established under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, has cloned many camels successfully and has the mandate to apply the latest biotechnological techniques to enhance the production of the animals of this region.
Injaz, meaning achievement in Arabic, marks a milestone in the advancement of cloning and biotechnology in the UAE. The camel was cloned using the ovarian cells of a slaughterhouse camel and since then, more than two dozen camels have been cloned by the Centre which now uses skin cells for cloning.
“Injaz disproved many sceptics who have doubted the fertility of cloned camels as she conceived the natural way,” said Dr Wani, who thinks the successful protocols established at their centre bode well for the international cloning community.
“After Injaz, we have successfully cloned many camels, ranging from racing champions to elite bulls to beauty camels. The cloning technology is being used now through out the world to enhance the production of elite animals and we are applying it to reproduce the best camels. Cloning has great promise for potential gains in biomedicine for pharmaceutical protein production and for multiplication of genetically superior animals and increased production traits,” he said.
Cloning os an effective technique for preservation of endangered species
Cloning also provides a breakthrough in stem cell use for diseases. “The aim of carrying out these studies is to obtain pluripotent cells from a cloned embryo. These cells are genetically the same as the donor organism from which they come. This gives them the ability to create patient- specific pluripotent cells, which could then be used in therapies or disease research,” added Dr Wani, who feels that cloning offers a lifeline to preserving endangered species
“Such cloning of highly endangered or extinct species requires the use of an alternative method of cloning called the interspecies nuclear transfer where we utilise a host and a donor of two different organisms that are closely related species and within the same genus,” he informed
Similar to other assisted reproduction techniques like artificial insemination, multiple ovulation and embryo transfer, it can be used to reproduce only a few selected animals in a similar fashion. According to Dr Wani, people have been using selective breeding from the very start of domestication of animals in order to enhance their production, strength or looks etc.
Explaining the intensive nature of the procedure and its multiple benefits, he added: “We need only a cell from a donor animal to produce its clone. We can culture millions of cells from a pinch of skin and store them in our cell/gene bank for decades. We can use these cells even decades after the death of a donor animal to produce an exact copy of the deceased donor animal. We have established a cell/gene bank in our centre wherein we provide the service of storing the cells from elite animals for their possible future use in cloning.”
What is cloning?
How cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer, works
1) Scientists collect a cell from the animal that is to be cloned (known as the ‘donor’). This cell can be from any part of the body and does not need to be a reproductive cell. The cell contains the DNA/genetic information of the donor animal.
2) An egg is collected from either an ovary of a slaughtered/dead animal or from a live female animal using an ultrasound-guided aspiration.
3) The egg is matured in the laboratory using incubators that simulate the natural womb. The nucleus of the egg is removed and is replaced with the nucleus from the donor cell. The nucleus of the cell is reprogrammed by chemical or electric stimulus in order to start behaving like a reproductive cell nucleus.
4) If successful, it fuses with the egg and starts dividing in the same manner as a naturally fertilised embryo.
5) After culturing these embryos in the laboratory for 7-8 days, an embryo is transferred into the uterus of a surrogate mother, which is synchronised to the same time-frame.
6) After a full-term pregnancy, the recipient gives birth to an animal that is essentially the identical twin of the genetic donor.
It’s important to remember that cloning does not manipulate the animal’s genetic make-up nor change an animal’s DNA. It is simply a form of assisted reproduction. Cloning allows the scientific community to create an exact genetic copy of an existing animal, like an identical twin.
In the case of Injaz, cloning was done with ovarian cells whereas the new techniques use skin cells, In 2010, the centre used skin cells for the first time in cloning, producing Bin Soughan, the world’s first skin cell-cloned camel. According to Dr Wani, this is a simpler process as it is easier and acceptable to most camel owners to collect a pinch of skin and send it to the centre rather than collecting ovarian cells where expert intervention is needed.
Advantages of cloning
Cloning is used to accelerate the reproduction of the most productive and elite livestock. In natural reproduction, an offspring gets genetic material from both parents while cloning allows the researchers to create an exact genetic copy of an existing animal, like an identical twin. For example, a clone of a beauty contest-winner will have looks and genetic make-up similar to that of the donor, whilst in natural breeding, only half of the genetic material will come from the winner and other half from the other parent.