Will Cloning Save Earth's Biological Heritage?

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March 28, 2008

Will Cloning Save Earth's Biological Heritage?

Woolly_mammoth_2_2_3 “Modern life” is killing off the animal kingdom, but there are no easy solutions for the crisis. Some scientists believe that cloning may offer a partial solution. While it may make only a tiny dent in the problem, scientists argue that at least it would preserve the world’s biological heritage from total annihilation.

Several scientists across the globe are taking cloning to a whole new level. They want to clone animals that are already extinct.

In an earlier Daily Galaxy post "Neanderthal Man, the Sequel -Scientists Aim to Bring Extinct Species Back to Life," we discussed how paleontologists are piecing together the complete genomes of long-dead species, such as the woolly mammoth and the Neanderthals, in an effort to bring them back to life.

Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark who is working on reconstructing the mammoth says he believes it is possible to bring back an extinct species like a mammoth if an extremely well preserved cell is found. He May have gotten his wish. A beautifully persevered baby mammoth was recently announced.

"The mammoth has no defects except that its tail was bit off," said Alexei Tikhonov, deputy director of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a member of the delegation.

“In terms of its state of preservation, this is the world's most valuable discovery,” he said.

The six-month-old female calf was discovered on the Yamal peninsula of Russia and is thought to have died 10,000 years ago.

The animal's trunk and eyes are still intact and even some of its fur remains on the body. The 130cm (4ft 3ins) tall, 50kg Siberian specimen dates to the end of the last Ice Age, when the great beasts were vanishing from the planet.

Larry Agenbroad, director of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs research centre in South Dakota, US, points out: "To find a juvenile mammoth in any condition is extremely rare."

Despite the inherent challenges, Dr Agenbroad is optimistic about the potential for cloning or “resurrecting” the long gone species.

"When we got the Jarkov mammoth [found frozen in Taimyr, Siberia, in 1997], the geneticists told me: 'if you can get us good DNA, we'll have a baby mammoth for you in 22 months'," he told BBC News.

The mammoth is an extinct member of the elephant family, which may help with the potential cloning process. According to Hendrick Poinar of McMaster University in Canada, "it's theoretically possible" to bring the creature back to life.

"I think it's going to be done at some point. Once you have the genome of a mammoth, you could compare it with the genome of its closest relative, the Asian elephant. Then you could genetically engineer the elephant DNA, point by point, so that it matches the mammoth DNA," he said.

"Then, by inserting this modified DNA into an elephant's egg cell, and implanting it in an elephant's womb, you could create a modified elephant that's nearly identical to the original mammoth. Or it could become possible to make entire chromosomes from scratch. I wouldn't be surprised if, in ten years, you'd be able to synthesize chromosome-length DNA," he said.

What caused the mammoth's widespread disappearance at the end of the last Ice Age remains a mystery. Possible culprits are climate change or overkill by human hunters, or a combination of both.

Mammoths first appeared in the Pliocene Epoch, 4.8 million years ago, but a population of mammoths lived in isolation on Russia's remote Wrangel Island until just 5,000 years ago.

Whether the leatherback sea turtles or the mammoth even can be cloned, has yet to be seen. Scientists are hopeful, but even if they can successfully clone the animals—cloning is not a long-term solution to the current widespread extinction crisis. Gawking at a living mammoth would be incredible, don’t get me wrong—but it won’t save the lives of thousands of precious modern day species disappearing due to man-made causes. No, we’ll need some much bigger solutions than cloning if we truly want to preserve the world’s biological heritage.

Posted by Rebecca Sato.

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Related posts:

Bigger Threat Than Global Warming: Mass Species Extinction
Neanderthal Man, the Sequel -Scientists Aim to Bring Extinct Species Back to Life

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Comments

I've read that 99.99% of all life that ever existed has become extinct. A pretty strong indication that extinction is part of the biological process, and belies the statement that modern life is the cause and that 'the problem' is how some like to spin it. Yet there is no denying that Man is the cause of some extinctions, and there is little to forgive for that.

Bringing back woolly mammoths is very nifty, but we had better use the technology to save species that are rare & endangered now. What about starting with some species of whales & dolphins, taking some flora & fauna from the rainforests ? If we're going to hunt them to extinction or destroy their habitats, we can at least have their DNA for future generations to use.

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