July 12, 2007 / 6:34 AM / in 12 years

Malaysia to try to clone threatened turtles

The 167-kilogram (368 lb) leatherback marine turtle known as Tommy swims in this April 12, 2006 file photo. Malaysia is launching a $9 million project to try to clone some of its threatened leatherback turtles in a last-ditch bid to save them from extinction. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia is launching a $9 million (4.4 million pound) project to try to clone some of its threatened leatherback turtles in a last-ditch bid to save them from extinction.

Malaysian agricultural and veterinary experts will join scientists in domestic and foreign universities on the five-year project, the New Straits Times reported on Thursday.

Junaidi Che Ayub, chief of Malaysia’s fisheries department, said the cloning procedure would first be carried out on green turtles, which are abundant in Malaysia’s northeastern state of Terengganu, where the leatherbacks nest.

“Once we have perfected the technique, we will apply it to leatherback turtles as they are a more complicated species in the turtle family,” the paper quoted Junaidi as saying.

Rantau Abang in Terengganu used to be the nesting home of one of the seven largest leatherback populations in the world but its population has declined by more than 99 percent since the 1960s, global conservation group WWF says on its Malaysia Web site.

Leatherbacks, known to scientists as Dermochelys coriacea, get their name from their leathery carapace, and have distinctive long front flippers, the site said.

They face threats such as the loss of nesting and feeding places, excessive egg-collection, fatal entangling in fishing nets, pollution and coastal development, it added.

Cloning animals involves taking the nuclei of cells from adults and fusing them into other egg cells that are implanted into a surrogate mother.

One of the most famous cloned animals, Dolly the sheep, was born in 1996. She was later euthanized at the age of 8 because of a degenerative lung condition.

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