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Biodiversity Preserved

Biodiversity PreservedUsinga new reproductive process, experts from the Tufts School of VeterinaryMedicine may have taken a major step in the preservation of endangeredspecies.Providence,RI.

Boston [08.06.04] While Chip looks like a typical goat, the 10-week-old animal represents a significant step forward for science. Tufts scientists - in collaboration with a Rhode Island foundation - became the first in the country to breed a critically endangered goat using a frozen embryo carried by a surrogate mother of another breed. The achievement is expected to impact everything from the preservation of endangered species to the safeguarding of the nation's food supplies.

"The goal is to form a frozen library with 70,000 stores of embryos, semen and other tissue in case there is a national need," Tufts' George Saperstein, DVM, told the Boston Herald.

Using the same process that created Chip, experts could re-establish breeds of animals on the verge of extinction using the stockpiled genetic material.

"Experts say at least a breed of livestock a week worldwide is vanishing because commercial operations shun them for a handful of others that produce more meat and milk," reported the Herald.

Without a strategy to preserve the species, they could disappear forever. And the remaining species could be much more vulnerable to disease.

"In recent decades, animal breeders have been wildly successful at genetically creating livestock that produce more meat, milk, wool and leather. But in that process, other genes that protect animals' natural ability to fight off diseases are also engineered out," reported the newspaper. "With fewer varieties, the ones left standing are more similar and more vulnerable to the same diseases, such as Mad Cow, or bioterrorist attack."

As a result, the nation's food supply could be severely disrupted if certain breeds were wiped out.

"Almost all the milk in this country comes from the Holstein cow," Saperstein - a professor and assistant dean for research at Tufts' veterinary school - told the Herald. If a disease spread through their ranks, the dairy industry could be wiped out.

But scientists appear to have found a remedy with the historic birth of Chip.

"The animals [we are preserving] carry genetic traits that may be resistant to disease or acts of bioterrorism that could devastate the livestock we presently produce for food and fiber," the SVF Foundation - which partnered with Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine on the research - told ABC News.

That safeguard may prove particularly important.

"We are looking toward the future," Saperstein told the Herald. "There is always a possibility of a new disease, be it natural or a bioengineered event that a terrorist could pull off."

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