To save one nearly extinct animal, scientists will bring back DNA from frozen specimens

23 animals nearly lost to extinction

Scientists are turning to genetic rescue to save black-footed ferrets from inbreeding and extinction.

The endangered black-footed ferret is already getting some hi-tech help from scientists. But in case vaccine-laden snacks shot from drones aren't enough to bolster the population, the Fish and Wildlife Service has another plan: reintroduce DNA from dead specimens.

Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) have rallied after the population dropped to 18 animals in 1987, but the several hundred ferrets alive today are all descended from just seven of those 18 individuals. So they have hardly any genetic diversity to speak of, making the population especially vulnerable to diseases and other threats.

Long-lost DNA from frozen specimens in zoos or museums could be restored to the ferrets via clones genetically near-identical to the frozen specimens that would breed with the existing population, writes David Biello at Scientific American. With gene editing, the clones could also carry and pass along resilience against disease. Geneticists plan to begin gene-editing cell cultures this year in partnership with the Zoological Society of San Diego.

More animals nearly lost to extinction:

Animals nearly lost to extinction
See Gallery
Animals nearly lost to extinction

Columbian white-tailed deer

(Photo: Getty Images)

Lake Erie water snake

(Photo: Getty Images)

Concho water snake

Gray whale

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Black bear

(Photo: Reuters)

 Steller sea lion

(Photo: Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

Virginia northern flying squirrel

(Photo: Alamy)

American Alligator

(Photo: Reuters)

Grey wolf

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Island night lizard

(Photo by Stephen Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Eastern grey kangaroo

(Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Red Kangaroo

(Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Western grey kangaroo

(Photo by Auscape/UIG via Getty Images)

Morelets Crocodile 

(Photo: Getty Images)

Peregrine Falcon

(Photo: Getty Images)

Brown Pelican 

(Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters)

Bald eagle 

(Photo: Bob Strong/Reuters)

Aleutian Canada goose

(Photo: Alamy)

Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel

(Photo: Getty Images)

Palau Ground Dove
Tinian Monarch 
Read Full Story