Researchers at Iran's Royan Institute for Reproductive Biomedicine, Stem Cell Biology and Technology made a clone of the endangered Isfahan mouflon, a type of wild sheep, by using a domestic sheep as the surrogate mother.
The two-week-old baby mouflon, which has been named Maral, is healthy and currently resides in a Royan farm, according to PressTV.
"The motivation for the project was the conservation of an endangered species," said Mohammad Hossein Nasr-Esfahani, the head of the biomedical research center of Royan. He noted that the conservation of wildlife is an important concept in developing countries.
The wild Isfahan mouflon - or ovis orientalis isphahanica - has been the victim of excessive poaching that has brought it to the brink of extinction in Iran, according to i24 News.
Established in 1991, the Royan Institute has been a pioneer of in vitro fertilization (IVF) in the Islamic republic, where infertile couples have easy access to such treatments at comparable costs to western equivalents.
Seven years ago, Royan became the first place in the Middle East to start working on animal cloning. The birth of Maral marks the first successful attempt at interspecies cloning involving an endangered species in the country, according to The Guardian.
Scientists clone animals by taking cells from one individual and insert them into an unfertilised donor egg which then develops into an embryo. In this instance, the embryo was carried by a surrogate sheep, after a biopsy had been obtained from a mouflon. Domestic sheep oocytes were taken from abattoir ovaries, and the best embryos were transferred to the surrogate sheep.
"The cloning technique is very efficient in our view, and so far we have cloned a herd of goats," Nasr-Esfahani said. "The last sheep that we cloned lived for over five years. This mouflon is healthy and 14 days have passed since its birth. We hope to donate the sheep to the city zoo where they can provide a suitable habitat for it."