San Diego Zoo clones endangered Przewalski’s horse from 40-year-old cells

A rare endangered Przewalski’s horse was created from cells taken from a stallion that had sat frozen at the San Diego Zoo for 40 years before they were fused with an egg from a domestic horse.

With the egg’s nucleus removed, ensuring Kurt would be basically all Przewalski’s horse, they were implanted in the mare who would become his mom on Aug. 6.

The result, officials say, was the world’s first cloned Przewalski’s horse.

The zoo sees his birth as a milestone in efforts to restore the population of the horse also known as the Asiatic Wild Horse or Mongolian Wild Horse.

The small, stocky animals are believed extinct in the wild and number only about 2,000 in zoos and wildlife habitats. Their limited gene pool puts them at a reproductive disadvantage.

“This colt is expected to be one of the most genetically important individuals of his species,” Bob Wiese, chief life sciences officer at San Diego Zoo Global, which operates the zoo, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that he will bring back genetic variation important for the future of the Przewalski’s horse population.”

Although only 2 months old, Kurt’s birth was made possible in 1980 when cells were taken from a 5-year-old stallion and put in deep freeze at San Diego’s Frozen Zoo facility. His father died in 1998.

Kurt was named for Kurt Benirschke, who played a key role in founding the Frozen Zoo with its extensive research program and cell cultures.

He was born at a veterinary facility in Texas where he’ll continue to live with his mother for most likely another year.

Eventually he’ll be integrated into the zoo’s Przewalski’s horse population, where it’s hoped someday he’ll become a father himself.

Przewalski’s horses take their official name from Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski, who found a skull and hide of one and shared it with a Russian museum.