Monday, March 17, 2014

Pleistocene Park

An effort is underway to clone once extinct animals and place them in an amusement park.

No, it's not exactly like the movie in your head.  But maybe similar.

A project called Revive and Restore has designs on bringing the woolly mammoth back to life.  Once regenerated, the mammoths would mill around a preserve in Siberia called Pleistocene Park created by Russian researcher, Sergey Zimov.  Part of this interest was kickstarted by a discovery last May of a nearly perfect specimen of mammoth found frozen in the ice of Siberia. This newly discovered sample was so well-preserved that it offered lymphoid tissue, an intact liver, and free-flowing blood.  If you're going to clone an animal, this is a bonanza.

I'm not making this up.  Click the links.

At the same time, however, this does not come without its share of significant challenges.  First, you'd have to inscribe living mammoth cells with the animal's genome...and indeed biologists are still working out a full genome for woolly mammoths.  One idea would be to provide suppletory material for gaps in the genomic sequence with elephant DNA.  From there, the cells would be cultured and cultivated and then spliced into an elephant embryo.  This hybrid would go into a living elephant for gestation and eventual delivery.

Nifty if for nothing else than the technical achievement.  Makes me wonder what other animals from that era could be brought back, such as the woolly rhinoceros.  Presumably you could do it with just about any lifeform provided you could get a genetic specimen.  I think it would be impressive to see any once extinct animal come back to life and its behavior observed.  But ultimately we must ask: "is this worth it?"

There are those who would respond in the affirmative, citing that this course of action would not only help us to understand cloning better but preservation and conservation as well.  The whole idea of those latter actions is to allow our world to have maximum biodiversity and in this case, we can undo an extinction in which humans hand a direct hand through hunting.

As George Dvorsky points out at the end of one of the linked articles however, we should consider the quality of life that a cloned mammoth or any other revived organism would have.  The animal would undoubtedly be poked and prodded for research data throughout the course of its life.  Additionally, what kind of life would it have as climate change continuously takes away the habitat for which it was meant?  That's another thing.  There may be other pristine specimens of these animals in ice somewhere, but as the climate changes and the ice melts away, that means the specimen rots all the quicker too and thereby becomes useless.

Ha.  You knew I'd work climate change in there somehow, didn't you?

ADDITION: Don't know if any of the mammoths or other mammals would carry plagues that could affect humans, but we did of course revive a virus that was frozen in Siberian ice.

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