Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pleistocene Park

Scientists have mapped about 80 percent of the genetic code of the extinct woolly mammoth, which they say could lead to bringing the creature back to life within the next 20 years.

The project marks the first time researchers have spelled out the DNA of an extinct species, and it raised the possibility that other ancient animals such as mastodons and sabertooth tigers might someday walk the Earth again.

"It could be done. The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?" asked Stephan Schuster, a Penn State University biochemist and co-author of the new research. "I would be surprised to see if it would take more than 10 or 20 years to do it."

The million-dollar mammoth study resulted in a first draft of the animal's genome, detailing the ice age creature's more than 3 billion DNA building blocks. The research published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature also gives scientists new clues about evolution and extinction.

"This is an amazing achievement," said Alex Greenwood, an Old Dominion University biology professor who studies ancient DNA and was not involved in the mammoth research.

Full-sized mammoths, about 8 to 14 feet tall like elephants, became extinct around 10,000 years ago.

To obtain the DNA, scientists relied on 20 balls of mammoth hair found frozen in the Siberian permafrost. That technique -- along with major improvements in genome sequencing and the still-emerging field of synthetic biology -- is helping biologists envision a science-fiction future.
I am aware of at least one preserved woolly mammoth discovered in Russia in 2007, so I wonder if there are any other genetic mapping projects taking place.

Whether it is a good idea to resurrect a creature that died out because its time had passed is the real question.

Is it wise to do something like this just because you can?

blog comments powered by Disqus