Chinese Firm Claims It Has Cloned an Arctic Wolf, Made It Live With a Dog

Scientists in China say they have managed to clone an Arctic wolf using a controversial method that some say could save species from extinction in the future.

The cloned wolf was announced by Beijing-based company Sinogene Biotechnology on September 19, 100 days after it was born in a lab. Mi Jidong, general manager of the company, said it was the "first case of its kind in the world" according to Chinese state media outlet the Global Times.

The cloning method, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) has been used to clone animals before—most notably Dolly the sheep, which was cloned in Scotland in 1996 and announced the following year.

Arctic wolf
A file photo of an Arctic wolf. Chinese company Sinogene Biotechnology says it has cloned an Arctic wolf by making an embryo and implanting it into a beagle. xtrekx/Getty

SCNT involves taking the nucleus of a donor cell from the body of an animal and placing it inside an egg cell from which the chromosomes have been removed. This nucleus is then reprogrammed to become fertilized and the egg develops into an embryo.

This is then placed inside of a host animal that develops the embryo into a fetus and carries it to full term, eventually giving birth to an animal that should be an exact clone of the original from which the donor nucleus was taken.

SCNT has at times proved controversial, particularly in the context of cloning humans, which brings up social, ethical and legal issues.

According to a 2006 study, a majority of clones produced via SCNT at that point had failed to develop properly and some of those that survived birth experienced health issues like early aging, premature death and tumors.

Dolly the sheep survived and had a relatively normal life in captivity, according to The Roslin Institute, which cloned her, but she died in 2003 due to lung tumors, aged six.

In the case of the Arctic wolf cloned in China, it's reported that the wolf, named Maya, is in good health, according to the Global Times. Though its donor cell was from a wild female Arctic wolf, its surrogate mother was a beagle dog—a decision made on the basis that dogs share genetic ancestry with wolves, making the technique more likely to succeed.

The wolf now lives with the beagle in a Sinogene lab in Xuzhou, in eastern China, though it's expected to be delivered to the Harbin Polarland amusement park in China's Heilongjiang Province, where it will be displayed to the public.

Initially, the wolf will live alone as she may not be able to adapt to Arctic wolf groups.

Gao Wei, deputy manager of the Beijing Wildlife Park, told the Global Times the technique offers the chance to preserve endangered species artificially. However, Sun Quanhui, a scientist from the World Animal Protection organization, told the outlet the technique is still at an early stage and that there are still technical and ethical issues to be addressed.

Although Maya's birth was successful, she wasn't the only attempt. The researchers had constructed 137 embryos overall, 85 of which were transferred into seven beagles.

Maya was the result of one of the attempts, though another cloned Arctic wolf is due to be delivered on September 22, Zhao Jianping, deputy general manager of Sinogene Biotechnology, told the Global Times.