How to Clone a Mammoth | Beth Shapiro

Summary of: How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction
By: Beth Shapiro

Introduction

Ever wondered if science could truly bring back extinct species? Get ready to explore the fascinating world of de-extinction in the summary of ‘How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction’ by Beth Shapiro! Discover the motivations behind these groundbreaking experiments and learn about the researchers pursuing the incredible goal of reconstructing extinct animals. Dive into the challenges they face in recovering ancient DNA, the methods they employ, and the ethical considerations involved throughout the process. Also, gain valuable insight into the prospects of reintroducing these revived species into their respective ecosystems and the potential impact on the environment.

Reimagining Extinction

In the past, extinction has been a natural cycle of birth and death, with only 1% of all the animals that ever lived existing today. However, some scientists are looking at de-extinction as a way to restore interactions between species and preserve biodiversity. Although de-extinction is mostly theoretical, researchers have been able to clone sheep and grow embryos of extinct animals. The goal of this technology is not to bring back the past but rather to build a better planetary future by addressing environmental challenges and the loss of potential benefits like disease remedies. De-extinction could be a way to repair the damage caused by humans, who have overhunted and cleared habitats. The resurrection of ecological interactions resulting from de-extinction technology could hold immense value.

The Promise of De-extinction

The pursuit of de-extinction seeks to restore ecosystems by reviving extinct species. In 2013, a TEDx presentation at National Geographic discussed the moral, ethical, and research challenges of this technology. Despite the unknown consequences and concerns, scientists are motivated by the potential knowledge to be gained from these endeavors.

Ecology Students’ Priorities

Ecology students align with the public’s beliefs in restoring extinct animals, preferring herbivores over carnivores and bigger animals over smaller ones. However, practicalities such as evaluating the species’ role in a critical ecosystem remain a challenge for researchers.

The Challenges of De-Extinction

The retrieval of ancient DNA for de-extinction involves extracting usable genetic material, which is a challenging process. A 17-million-year-old piece of amber containing small bees was used by scientists, who had to enter an ultra-clean lab to avoid contamination. Though the results were disappointing, this case highlights the difficulties inherent in this process due to genetic material deterioration and microbial contamination.

Revolutionary DNA Replication

Scientists have made significant advancements through the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). By duplicating small amounts of a DNA sequence, the PCR method permits researchers to produce millions of copies for experimentation. However, DNA doesn’t survive millions of years. Often, animal bones and tissues preserved in cool environments, caves, and dry locations yield the best samples. Accurately dating a sample is crucial, and radiocarbon dating is used to date biological specimens up to 40,000 years old by tracking the decay of a carbon isotope.

Reviving the Mammoth

Scientists hope to clone the mammoth using preserved genomes found in mummified remains. Volcanic ash can provide a time stamp for fossils, allowing researchers to estimate age and extract genetic material. Currently, no extinct species remains contain somatic cells, which are necessary for cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer. Researchers hope to find a well-preserved specimen, ideally a mammoth mummy, with unique adaptations to its habitat and closely related living relatives to make de-extinction feasible. However, the cloning of a mammoth remains unlikely in the near future. Despite this, scientists continue to search for more samples, hoping to find the perfect candidate for de-extinction.

De-Extinction: Two Promising Paths

Selective breeding and genetic engineering are the most promising options for de-extinction, according to the research. Selective breeding is an ancient practice that uses observable traits to perpetuate desirable characteristics in animals. DNA carries these traits down through generations. However, this method is ineffective with animals that have few offspring, such as elephants. Genetics engineering is a more recent technique that offers possibilities without the need to wait for breeding results. Genetics modification can entail the use of Crispr-Cas9, a revolutionary technique used to remove or add specific gene sequences. While this technology holds the potential to bring extinct animals back to life, legal and ethical questions need to be addressed. Additionally, the potential ripple effects could lead to unforeseen consequences. Finally, this research emphasizes the importance of sustaining endangered species today and preserving biodiversity for future generations.

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