David Edwin Wildt developed and applied assisted reproductive technologies to conserve rare and endangered wildlife species in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He advocated genome resource banks to help preserve biodiversity, and he advocated for practical ethics to guide wildlife reproductive biologists when they use technology and environmental planning. Wildt often focused on the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), but he researched greater than fifty vertebrate species. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, he directed the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute Center for Species Survival in Front Royal, Virginia. He researched reproductive biology and population genetics, used assisted reproduction technologies (ART) for wildlife species, and showed researchers how to utilize noninvasive techniques to monitor the hormones in organisms and their reproductive behaviors.
Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a stem cell biotechnology company in Worcester, Massachusetts, showed the potential for cloning to contribute to conservation efforts. In 2000 ACT researchers in the United States cloned a gaur (Bos gaurus), an Asian ox with a then declining wild population. The researchers used cryopreserved gaur skin cells combined with an embryo of a domestic cow (Bos taurus). A domestic cow also served as the surrogate for the developing gaur clone. The successful procedure opened the opportunity to clone individuals from species for which there are few or zero live specimens. The official release of this experiment's data was published in the paper 'Cloning of an Endangered Species (Bos gaurus) Using Interspecies Nuclear Transfer,' in October 2000. In the article, the researchers presented data collected from several cloned fetuses that were aborted before the full term of 283 days. At the time of publication, the gaur bull fetus, named Noah at birth, had developed for greater than 180 days. Noah was born on 8 January 2001, but died two days later due to dysentery. The development, birth, and death of Noah became a platform for conservationists and ethicists to critique the role of cloning in society and as a method to conserve species.
David Wildt is an animal reproductive biologist who directs the Conservation Biology Institute in Fort Royal, Virginia. In 1986, Wildt argued that artificial reproductive technologies should only be used for species conservation efforts if standard techniques to aid natural reproduction are not effective. Between 1986 and 2001, Wildt revised his views and values primarily in relation to two things: which methods captive breeding programs ought to use, and how reproductive scientists ought to contribute to the larger work of conservation. His arguments became institutionalized in varying species conservation organizations such as the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Captive Breeding Specialist Group, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, headquartered in Washington, DC.
During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Robert Paul Lanza studied embryonic stem cells, tissues, and endangered species as chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology, Incorporated in Worcester, Massachusetts. Lanza's team cloned the endangered species of gaur Bos gaurus. Although the gaur did not survive long, Lanza successfully cloned another cow-like creature, called the banteng (Bos javanicus). Lanza also worked on cloning human embryos to harvest stem cells, which could be used to treat dieases. While previous techniques required the embryo's destruction, Lanza developed a harvesting technique that does not destroy the embryo, forestalling many ethical objections to human embryonic research.
Kurt Benirschke studied cells, placentas, and endangered species in Germany and the US during the twentieth century. Benirschke was professor at the University of California in San Diego, California, and a director of the research department at the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California. He also helped form the research department of the San Diego Zoo and its sister organization, the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species. Benirschke contributed to the field of embryology through his work on human and animal reproduction, including work on human placentas and birth defects, through work on the structure of chromosomes, and through work on the reproduction and conservation of endangered species.
The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research (SDZICR) in San Diego, California, is a research organization that works to generate, use, and share information for the conservation of wildlife and their habitats. In 1975, Kurt Benirschke, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) who studied human and animal reproduction, and Charles Bieler, the director of the San Diego Zoo, collaborated to form the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES). In 2009, the San Diego Zoo announced the creation of SDZICR, which expanded and replaced CRES, to provide central organization and management of scientific programs at the San Diego Zoo. By 2004, Allison Alberts was the director of research and for more than a decade oversaw the SDZICR's many research initiatives, including the collection and storage of genetic and reproductive information of rare and endangered animal and plant species.
David Wildt's cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) research from 1978-1983 became the foundation for the use of embryological techniques in endangered species breeding programs. The cheetah is a member of the cat family (Felidae), which includes thirty-seven species. According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) all Felidae species are currently threatened or endangered, with the exception of the domestic cat (Felinus catus). Cheetahs are an internationally recognized charismatic megafauna species, prized zoo specimens, difficult to breed, and the basis of many conservation campaigns. Like most species, cheetahs have not traditionally been studied; only a few "model" organisms have been thoroughly researched in a laboratory setting. This research revealed that the difficulty observed in breeding cheetahs in captivity is due to their lack of genetic diversity.