Attack of the Clones
A New Hope for the Endangered and Extinct
In 1993, Steven Spielberg released one of the most iconic films of the twentieth century, Jurassic Park. Never one to disappoint, Spielberg packed this film with special effects and life-like animatronics that raised the bar for film production. From the first glimpse of the harmless herbivores, to the terrifying scene where the tyrannosaurus comes bounding through the rain, one wonders, “What if this were possible?”
Ever since the successful cloning of “Dolly” the Scottish sheep back in 1996, scientist have been hard at work, studying animal DNA and cloning techniques. Recently, Japanese scientists announced that they had successfully cloned a mouse to the twenty-fifth generation. They followed the same Dolly technique, called “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” in which the nucleus of an adult specimen, is transferred to an egg that has had the nucleus removed. After a few failures, the geneticist perfected the technique, when they added trichostatin to the test tube in which the nucleus develops. This substance lessened the clones chances of developing abnormalities and fatal conditions, which led them to live healthy average life spans. Comparatively, Dolly died of lung cancer at age six, and struggled with crippling arthritis most of her life. So what do these recent findings means for the future of clone-technology?
On March 15, the National Geographic Society held a forum in Washington DC entitled, The TED*DeExtinction. In attendance were conservationists and researchers who discussed the possibilities of reviving animals long extinct, and strengthening the numbers of those who are considered endangered. Though it may read a bit like a science fiction novel, geneticists support the claims that such a feat is possible. In 2003, biologists revived a Pyrenean Ibex, a specie of goat native to Spain that suddenly became extinct in late 2000. Using frozen tissue cells collected before their ultimate demise, the biologists were able to clone a new specimen, though it only survived moments after birth. Conservationists hope that with the recent advancements in cloning, this process can be repeated effectively. Scientists in Russia and South Korea are currently gathering the DNA of the long dead Woolly Mammoths whose remains have been found well preserved and abundant in Siberian permafrost. They hope to successfully recreate these once magnificent beasts to gain a better understanding of the world’s wildlife some 10,000 years ago. Saber tooth tigers and tasmanian devils are also on the list of animals that the geneticists and biologists are curious about studying.
As for the dinosaur, you can rest assured that no man-eating T-Rex will be storming through your backyard anytime soon. De-Extinction has a long way to go before we can expect to see any significant impact from DNA cloning, as many kinks have yet to be worked out. (Not to mention the dinosaur is not among the species scientists hope to revive..) Even so, keep your eyes peeled for Manny and Diego, coming soon to a zoo near you.