Brussels, 03 April 2002
The creation of cloned rabbits has been reported by scientists working at France's Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA).
Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the researchers say the new clones could be used to further understanding of human disease.
In order to produce the genetically identical rabbits, the scientists used the cell nuclear replacement method but changed the timing of key stages in the process. From the hundreds of embryos used just six live animals were produced, of which four have survived.
The team says the technique could be used to produce large numbers of genetically modified rabbits to supply labs with animals that mimic human diseases. Although mice and rats are commonly used in this way at present, Jean-Paul Renard and his team say rabbits may be more useful as their physiology is closer to that of humans and their larger size may make them easier to work with than lab rodents.
The INRA researchers will also team up with French biotechnology company BioProtein Technologies to try and adapt rabbits to produce drug molecules in their milk. The use of animals to produce pharmaceutical proteins, or 'pharming,' has already been achieved using sheep, cows and goats.
BioProtein Technology's Marc le Bozec told the BBC: 'The advantage is that rabbits reproduce so quickly. The pregnancy lasts one month, then it takes four months to sexual maturity, then within six months you can have the first milk.'