Rabbits joined the ever expanding list of cloned animals when cloned bunnies came hopping into the world in 2002.
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How to Clone a Rabbit
The technology used to create the world's first ever cloned rabbits was exactly the same as that used to produce Dolly the sheep; nuclear transfer. The genetic material from adult rabbit donor cells was fused with enucleated eggs - eggs that had been emptied of their genetic material.
The process was just as inefficient as other cloning attempts, despite the fact that the scientists altered the procedure a little. First of all they reduced the amount of time that the fused cell is bathed in the chemicals that are required to kick start embryogenesis. Secondly, the scientists claimed to have identified the precise time when implantation into surrogate mothers should take place, to ensure a normal pregnancy.
Hundreds of embryos were created, but they resulted into only six live births. Two kits died not long after birth. Four survived.
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What are the Benefits to Cloning?
This reproductive cloning of rabbits was carried out by French scientists from the country's Agronomy Research Institute (INRA) and details of their work was published in Nature Biotechnology.
So why clone a rabbit? The aim was never to clone a pet, it was all done for medical reasons, none of which find favour with people who disagree with animals being used in research.
First of all, the reproductive cloning of rabbits could see them being used more often as laboratory models. Identical rabbits could be created with similar diseases to humans. As they are physiologically much closer to humans than lab rodents, the scientists claim that experiments with cloned rabbits would be more meaningful.
Cloned rabbits could also be used as factories to produce human proteins in their milk, in the same way that sheep and cow clones are used. These proteins are for therapeutic purposes.
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Future of Cloning
China grabbed the next 'world first' when it came to cloning in rabbits. In 2007 they created the world's first cloned rabbit from fibroblast cells that were taken from a fetus. It was born on September the 14th and as with previous work to clone animals the reasons given were to create genetically modified laboratory models of human diseases, and as part of a process to look for treatments for genetic disorders.