Ecologist dissects the science of de-extinction

phys.org | 4/14/2015 | Staff
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This information undoubtedly will disappoint "Jurassic Park" fans, but it comes from an expert—Beth Shapiro, the UGA alumna and evolutionary biologist who wrote the book "How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction." Shapiro returned to campus April 4 to deliver the George H. Boyd Distinguished Lecture.

During her talk, "Can—and Should—Technology Reverse Extinction?," Shapiro introduced the audience to the field of ancient DNA and outlined the science required to bring a species back from extinction. Essentially, researchers can't clone a woolly mammoth if they don't have access to a living woolly mammoth.

Mammoths - Passenger - Pigeons - Neanderthals - Adolf

"It is not possible to bring back mammoths, or passenger pigeons, or Neanderthals, or Adolf Hitler, or the dodo, or sabre-toothed cats, dinosaurs, the thylacine, the great auk, the Carolina parakeet, or the gastric brooding frog," said Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; and 2009 MacArthur Fellow.

If she had her choice, though, she'd bring back the gastric brooding frog. They became extinct in the mid-1980s, but gastric brooding frogs swallowed fertilized eggs and six weeks later barfed up fully formed frogs.

"That's freaking awesome," she said.

Though the woolly mammoth will remain extinct, technological advances make it possible for scientists to create a genetic match for a living creature—your dog, for example. But it would not actually be your dog, according to Shapiro.

Everything - Sequence - As - Cs - Gs

"We and everything else are much more than the sequence of the As and Cs and Gs and Ts that make up the code of our DNA," she said.

That same technology—a targeted gene editing tool known as CRISPR—may, however, be useful in helping species that are...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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