Extinct beasts could be ‘resurrected’ using DNA
By John von Radowitz
NEANDERTHAL humans, sabre-toothed tigers, giant sloths and the dodo could all qualify for resurrection using preserved DNA, it has been claimed.
A list of 50 “extinct beasts” that might, together with the woolly mammoth, rise again with the help of future technology was compiled by New Scientist magazine.
They included the ice-age Neanderthal, which for a time lived alongside our Homo sapiens ancestors before vanishing around 25,000 years ago.
In addition the gorilla was cited as a not-yet extinct candidate. Although the great ape still lives in the forests of west Africa, it was expected to be gone by the time scientists develop the ability to bring extinct animals back from the dead.
In November, geneticists published a near-complete DNA blueprint for the woolly mammoth, increasing speculation about the possibility of reviving the creature 10,000 years after it disappeared from the Earth.
This would involve cloning or tinkering with an elephant genome to remove the genetic differences. In both situations, a surrogate mother in the form of a closely related species would be needed.
Such an ambitious goal is not possible with today’s technology, but some experts believe it is only a matter of time before extinct mammals are brought back to life.
DNA less than around 100,000 years old can be preserved more or less intact in special circumstances, for instance when an animal is frozen in permafrost or dies in a dark cave or somewhere extremely dry.
Expert Svante Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told New Scientist: “It’s hard to say that something will never ever be possible, but it would require technologies so far removed from what we currently have that I cannot imagine how it would be done.”
The most likely candidates for resurrection are:
* The Neanderthal (extinct 25,000 years ago). A draft of the Neanderthal genome is expected to be published this year. Modern humans would provide ideal egg donors and surrogate mothers for cloning Neanderthals. But, as New Scientist says: “It is hard to imagine even the most crazed of mad scientists entering such taboo territory”.
* Sabre-toothed cat (extinct 10,000 years ago). Permafrost-preserved specimens might provide a suitable source of DNA for the awesome sabre-toothed cat, famous for its seven inch- long canines.
* Short-faced bear (extinct 11,000 years ago). Despite its name, the short-faced bear dwarfed the polar bear, the world’s largest living land carnivore. Standing upright, it may have been a third taller. There are specimens encased in permafrost from which intact DNA could be recovered.
* Glyptodon (extinct 11,000 years ago). An armadillo the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Recovering usable DNA would depend on finding well- preserved remains.
* Tasmanian tiger (extinct 1936). Benjamin, the last Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. Preserved tissues less than a century old should allow for a complete sequence of the predator’s genome to be made.
* Woolly rhinoceros (extinct 10,000 years ago). As with the mammoth, many specimens are preserved in permafrost.
* Dodo (extinct 318 years ago). Minute fragments of dodo DNA were obtained from the world’s best preserved specimen of the Mauritian bird in 2002.
* Giant ground sloth (extinct 8,000 years ago). The giant sloth stood six metres (19.69ft) tall and is believed to have weighed four tonnes.
* Irish elk (extinct 7,700 years ago). Once found across Europe, the elk stood more than two metres tall at the shoulder and sported antlers four metres wide.