Could scientists really bring dinosaurs back to life? An evolutionary biologist explainsby Beth Shapiro / June 4, 2015 / Leave a comment
The science of de-extinction—research into how we might be able to bring species that have become extinct back to life—is a rapidly emerging field. It’s not completely surprising that the idea has attracted so much attention. It’s a fascinating thought that we might be able to revive long-lost species such as the mammoth or even, as Jurassic Park imagines, dinosaurs. But it’s also appealing because if extinction is not forever, then it lets us off the hook. If we can bring species that we have driven to extinction back to life, then we can right our wrongs before it is too late. We can have a second chance, clean up our act and restore a healthy and diverse future, before it is too late to save our own species.
I run a research laboratory at University of California, Santa Cruz. My lab specialises in a field of biology called “ancient DNA.” We and other scientists working in this field develop tools to isolate DNA sequences from bones, teeth, hair, seeds, and other tissues of organisms that used to be alive, and use these DNA sequences to study ancient populations and communities. The DNA that we extract from these remains is largely in a terrible condition, which is not surprising given that it can be as old as 700,000 years. But even if we are able to generate a genome sequence, we then have to transform a bunch of letters into a living thing.
While it is still not possible to bring extinct species back to life, science is making progress in this direction. In 2009, a team of Spanish and French scientists announced that a clone of an extinct Pyrenean ibex was born to a mother who was a hybrid of a domestic goat and a different species of ibex. To clone the Pyrenean ibex, the scientists used the same technology that had been used in 1996 to successfully clone Dolly the sheep. That technology requires living cells, so, shortly before her death, scientists captured the last living Pyrenean ibex and took a small amount of tissue from her ear. They used this tissue to create embryos. Only one of 285 embryos that were implanted into…