In an effort to increase genetic diversity among horses, scientists have gone sci-fi and used frozen 40-year-old cells to create Kurt, the very first clone of a Przewalski’s horse.
Kurt was born at Timber Creek Veterinary in Texas on August 6 and has the traditional features of an endangered Przewalski’s horse, the last truly wild equine species in the world. Przewalski’s (pronounced psuh-vahl-skeez) horses once roamed Europe, but are now mostly limited to Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan after successful reintroductions.
As Science Alert reports, the last confirmed sighting of a Przewalski’s horse in the wild was in 1969. (Blame hunting, harsh winters, and competition with other livestock for their sharp population decline.) There are only approximately 2,000 of the horses left in the world today.
Kurt is stocky, pot-bellied, and looks more like a donkey than the domestic or wild horse you’re probably used to seeing. Like other Przewalski’s horses, Kurt will grow to weigh between 200 and 340 kilograms and will stand somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 meters tall from hooves to withers.
Kurt’s birth was a collaboration between the Timber Creek facility, the San Diego Zoo, and Revive & Restore, a company that uses genetics to preserve and restore endangered and extinct species.
“This birth expands the opportunity for genetic rescue of endangered wild species,” said Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore, in a news release. “Advanced reproductive technologies, including cloning, can save species by allowing us to restore genetic diversity that would have otherwise been lost to time.”
The one-of-a-kind foal was born to a surrogate mother using DNA that was cryogenically frozen 40 years ago at the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo, “the largest and most diverse collection of its kind in the world [containing] over 10,000 living cell cultures, oocytes, sperm, and embryos representing nearly 1,000 taxa,” according to the Zoo.
Kurt, who was named after Frozen Zoo cofounder Kurt Benirschke, is healthy, but he will still need another year with his surrogate mom before he can get along on his own, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Only then will he be brought to the Safari Park, where zoo researchers hope he’ll sire healthy offspring that, perhaps, can one day be returned to the wild.”
Picture Screenshot from video