The bucardo (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) was a sub-species of ibex, with distinct physical and genetic characteristics to other mountain goats inhabiting the Iberian Peninsula. It was perfectly adapted to life in its mountain habitat, and to survive the extreme cold and snow of winter in the Pyrenees.
Scientists in Spain have received funding to test whether an extinct mountain goat can be cloned from preserved cells. The bucardo became extinct in 2000, but cells from the last animal were frozen in liquid nitrogen. In 2003, a cloned calf was brought to term but died a few minutes after birth. Now, the scientists will test the viability of the female bucardo's 14-year-old preserved cells.
The bucardo, or Pyrenean ibex, calf born through cloning was an historic event: the first "de-extinction", in which a lost species or sub-species was resurrected. The Aragon Hunting Federation signed an agreement with the Centre for Research and Food Technology of Aragon (CITA) in Zaragoza to begin preliminary work on the cells from the last animal, named Celia.
One of the scientists behind the cloning effort, Dr Alberto Fernandez-Arias, told BBC News: "At this moment, we are not initiating a 'bucardo recovery plan', we only want to know if Celia's cells are still alive after having been maintained frozen during 14 years in liquid nitrogen." In addition to this in vitro work, they will also attempt to clone embryos and implant them in female goats.
"In this process, one or more live female bucardo clones could be obtained. If that is the case, the feasibility of a bucardo recovery plan will be discussed," Dr Fernandez-Arias, who is head of the Aragon Hunting, Fishing and Wetlands Service, explained.
Even if the new effort succeeds in producing healthy clones, any future recovery plan for the bucardo would be fraught with difficulty - especially given the only frozen tissue is from a lone female.
One possible approach for bringing back the bucardo might be to cross a healthy female bucardo clone with a closely related sub-species - such as the Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica hispanica) or the Gredos ibex (Capra pyrenaica victoriae) - and then selectively breeding the offspring to enhance traits typical of the bucardo.
Several other possibilities could also be explored. For instance, researchers have been able to reverse the sex of female mouse embryos by introducing a key gene that makes