Elizabeth Ann looks like any other black-footed ferret. But there’s one big difference: She’s a clone . Elizabeth Ann is an exact copy of a black-footed ferret named Willa that died about 30 years ago. This is the first time that scientists have cloned an endangered animal native to the United States.
To clone her, scientists took out genes from Willa’s frozen skin cells. Then they combined this genetic material with an egg cell taken from a domestic ferret—the type you’d buy at a pet shop. This combined cell is called an embryo. It was then put inside another domestic ferret. The embryo grew just as it would during a regular pregnancy. A month later, on December 10, 2020, Elizabeth Ann was born!
“She’s spectacular,” says Ben Novak. He’s a scientist at Revive & Restore, a company that worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on the project. “She’s a living, breathing animal that was born from a skin cell,” he says.
Today, Elizabeth Ann is scurrying through tubes at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado. And she may help to save her kind.