From Céline Dion to the Tasmanian Tiger, reproductive technology is in the news. The famous singer recently succeeded in having a baby after numerous attempts at in-vitro fertilization. Earlier, Australian cloning experts announced their plans to bring an extinct animal back to life, "when cloning technology permits." Lawrence Smith's research has implications for both these reproductive technologies.
Dr. Smith has achieved international stature for his work in nuclear transfer, cloning and transgenic animal production. His research is part of a long-term effort towards better understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in cellular reprogramming. While he has a particular appreciation for the commercial potential of cloning to improve domestic livestock, his basic research on early embryogenesis may also give infertile couples seeking help from science a better chance of having a baby.
Current cloning techniques have a very low success rate. Despite enormous advances in the last five years - from Dolly the sheep to Starbuck the bull - cloning is still something of a hit-and-miss proposition. Dr. Smith and his group will attempt to find ways of improving the transfer of genetic information within the cell and thereby improve the survival rate of the embryos produced.
As techniques based on this basic research advance, there is the exciting possibility of preventing and even reversing the extinction of species. Cross-species cloning raises the prospect that some of the world's endangered species could be pulled back from the brink. With time, and as the technology matures, it may even be possible for extinct animals to be recovered through cross-species cloning, if their remains can provide a viable source of DNA.