South Korean Scientists Are Planning To Clone Cave Lions

The two cubs are thought to be 12,000 years old. Vera Salnitskaya via The Siberian Times
Josh Davis 08 Mar 2016, 15:17

The incredible find of two perfectly preserved cave lion cubs frozen in the Siberian permafrost took the world by storm. Thought to have died 12,000 years ago when the young lions were covered by a landslide while waiting for their mother to return to the cave, they are by far the most well-preserved cave lions ever discovered. Now scientists from South Korea have taken samples from the cubs in an attempt to clone the animals at an unknown date, reports The Siberian Times.

The sections of skin and muscle tissues were removed by the South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk, who has pioneered research into the cloning of animals. Having perfected the cloning of domestic dogs, he now plans to turn his attention to helping save more endangered species such as wild dogs, as well as more controversially attempting to bring back the woolly mammoth. Now, he is also turning his attention to the cave lions.

The lions (Panthera spelaean) lived during the last Ice Age during the Pleistocene, and are considered among the largest species of lion to have ever existed. They would have prowled the grasslands from Europe right across to eastern Russia, and shared the landscape with the mammoths that Hwang is also planning on trying to bring back. How successful he and his team will be remains to be seen, though some conservationists argue that all the time, money, and effort spent on these projects is wasted, and could be better used on animals still surviving.

The best-preserved cub of the two is being kept for a future date. Vera Salnitskaya via The Siberian Times 

Hwang Woo-Suk is still dogged by his fall from grace in 2006, when it was discovered that he had committed fraud and breached ethical guidelines in his two most prominent scientific articles in which he claimed he had become the first person to clone a human embryo. It turned out that not only had his team fabricated data, and used the research to get more funding, but that members of his team were placed under pressure to donate their own eggs for study, with many of the women involved worried for the future of their career if they said no.

Since then, however, Hwang has managed to rebuild his scientific standing, as he has worked since 2006 to perfect the technique to clone dogs, cattle, and pigs at his state-of-the-art Sooam Biotech Research Foundation. In the past decade, the team of 45 scientists have so far managed to successfully clone over 400 dogs, and are even offering their service commercially, with many Americans paying $100,000 to get their beloved pet cloned. Hwang is also working with the South Korean government to clone beef cattle, as well as planning on opening the largest cloning factory in China.

Of the two cubs found, samples were only taken from one, with the most well-preserved of the two being held back by the Yakutian Academy of Sciences in the hope that, in the future, advances in science might give a greater chance of success in cloning the animals. “We intend to keep it for the future,” explained Dr. Albert Protopopov to The Siberian Times. “The methods of research are constantly being improved, about once a decade there is a mini-revolution in this area. So we will do everything possible to keep this carcass frozen for as long as possible.”

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