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Biotech Science

Resurrecting the Mighty Mammoth, Cheaply 322

Posted by timothy
from the when-faster-and-cheaper-are-synonymous dept.
somanyrobots writes with an interesting followup in the New York Times to the earlier-reported substantial reconstruction of the woolly mammoth genome: "Scientists are talking for the first time about the old idea of resurrecting extinct species as if this staple of science fiction is a realistic possibility, saying that a living mammoth could perhaps be regenerated for as little as $10 million. The same technology could be applied to any other extinct species from which one can obtain hair, horn, hooves, fur or feathers, and which went extinct within the last 60,000 years, the effective age limit for DNA." (The Washington Post article linked from the earlier post was much more skeptical, calling such an attempt "still firmly the domain of science fiction." The New York Times article, while describing the process in similar terms, also calls attention to recent advances in sequencing DNA, as well as recoding DNA for cloning.)
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Resurrecting the Mighty Mammoth, Cheaply

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 20, 2008 @07:38PM (#25839661)

    Anyone got some amber they want to sell?

    -or-

    Yo mamma so fat, it'd cost 10 billion to clone her!

  • by logjon (1411219)
    is today's reality.
  • Good! (Score:5, Funny)

    by owlnation (858981) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @07:41PM (#25839679)
    We may well need an army of Mammoths to fight the mutant tool-equipped space spiders from that other earlier story. $10 million is a small price to pay to save humanity from the giant space webs.
  • Frankenstein (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SoupGuru (723634)

    What about the animal? The poor thing will be the only one of its species in existence. No chance of reproduction (unless it's close enough to an elephant to mate), no herd to grow up in, no point to its life other than for us to ooh and aah over.

    Just because we can doesn't mean we should.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by somanyrobots (1334451)
      It really just sounds like you're saying we need more than one.
    • Re:Frankenstein (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeremi (14640) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @07:58PM (#25839869) Homepage

      What about the animal? The poor thing will be the only one of its species in existence. No chance of reproduction (unless it's close enough to an elephant to mate), no herd to grow up in, no point to its life other than for us to ooh and aah over.

      And yet would the mammoth's life experiences be any different from those of millions of other animals being kept as pets already? It would certainly have a much longer and healthier life than that of your average cow, chicken, or lab rat....

      I think your sympathies are misplaced.

      As for whether there would be a "point" to its life... it would be a significant scientific and technological milestone. That's more "point" than most domesticated animals have.

      • Re:Frankenstein (Score:5, Interesting)

        by NotBornYesterday (1093817) * on Thursday November 20, 2008 @08:22PM (#25840127) Journal

        His post assumes that we wouldn't try to establish a breeding population. If we plan on bringing back an extinct species, what moral obligation do we have to prevent its extinction when the only specimen dies? Or is it okay, since our world has moved on since the last mammoth lived? If scientists make one, should we make more and restore a population? Would today's world be a good environment for a wild population or not? Would our creations be forever destined to live in zoos?

        If we create a breeding population, how do we ensure genetic diversity? I am not a bioengineer, and have no way of knowing if diversity is already included in their method (taking a living elephant's skin cell and slowly reshuffling the DNA from elephant to mammoth) by simply using cells from different donor elephants for making each new mammoth. I guess that would depend on how reshuffled the DNA gets in the process of injecting new sequences.

        • Re:Frankenstein (Score:4, Insightful)

          by sbeckstead (555647) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @09:15PM (#25840623) Homepage Journal
          Look what we did for the American Bison, I mean they are tasty and all but we still stopped at the last minute. Now everyone can have buffalo steaks if they want one. Why not bring 'em back and farm them for food. We used them for that once and these things produce a whole lot more meat than buffalo.
        • by maglor_83 (856254)

          I guess that would depend on how reshuffled the DNA gets in the process of injecting new sequences.

          As long as it's shuffled at least 4 times, it should all work out fine.

    • by Farmer Tim (530755) <roundfile@nOSpAM.mindless.com> on Thursday November 20, 2008 @08:06PM (#25839967) Journal

      This is Slashdot; creatures with no chance of reproducing are par for the course here, I don't see why another one is so morally outrageous, especially one that's slimmer and less hairy than the average Linux hacker.

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      I imagine it would be delicious...
    • let's make a whole herd

    • by ebuck (585470)

      Somehow I believe if you could bring one back, bringing another back of the opposite sex within a few years wouldn't be impossibly difficult. Especially when it would likely be the most cost effective means of producing more Mammoths for zoos and others that were willing to pay.

      The business of zoos might not always be pretty, but it practically guarantees that more than one will exist if public outrage doesn't overcome public curiosity.

      • by maglor_83 (856254)

        Somehow I believe if you could bring one back, bringing another back of the opposite sex within a few years wouldn't be impossibly difficult.

        Just mix in a certain frog's DNA, and they'll change from female to male no problems.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      Until I see an outcry against household pets, your comment holds no water.
  • Aren't we missing the "disk drive", that is, the womb and whatever else surrounded the DNA (egg?). Or has the "drive" changed little enough that current "models" will work? It seems a problem, sort of like archiving a bunch of data and including plans for the drive needed to read the disk it's encoded on, but of course you need the drive before you can read the plans to construct one. (sorry for not using a car analogy)
    • by Carnildo (712617)

      Current elephants are reasonably closely related to mammoths, so you should be able to use them as the base. Since mitochrondria reproduce asexually, they don't evolve very quickly, and all the other bits in a donor egg will be replaced with DNA-derived ones as the cell divides.

    • Maybe if we made a really big incubator...

  • I am completely fine with them doing this as long as they use the FSV and somehow get unix to run on a thinking machines.

  • stupid (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    man, you americans must be swiming in cash... "only 10 million". This will be called the mamoth bailout

  • by Phrogman (80473) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @07:53PM (#25839819) Homepage

    Well, the first few we resurrect will be interesting and a tourist attraction and all that, but once the public is used to them there has to be a practical application.

    Mammoth Burgers sound good to me :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      My thoughts exactly... since these critters were apparently hunted into extinction by early humans, I can only surmise that they must have been really good eatin'! I'm sure we'll have no problem raising the money to clone these beasties if we just promise everybody that contributes a good mammoth meal. However, I think the $10 million estimate is way too low; this is a 100-year project since you're starting with an elephant surrogate and you don't have a true mammoth until you've gone through several genera
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by julesh (229690)

        My thoughts exactly... since these critters were apparently hunted into extinction by early humans, I can only surmise that they must have been really good eatin'!

        There are, apparently, people alive today who've eaten mammoth. One of them described the experience as "like eating meat that's been in the freezer for too long," although there could be a reason for this...

    • Think food, and "tourism." It's working with farming bison [hpj.com], an animal which was almost extinct. The meat is leaner than regular beef and sells well, but the real money comes from hee-haws with large-calibre weapons who like shooting big hairy cows in open fields. Imagine how much money they'd shell out to blow away a woolly mammoth.

      And for the record - whoever came up with the "jurassicbabar" tag, I love you.

  • Mmmmmmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by jaxtherat (1165473) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @07:56PM (#25839839) Homepage

    Mammoth ribs :)

    *goes back to watching Flintstones*

    • And why not? If they can be bred in captivity what would be wrong with mammoth farms, mammoth steaks, and other tasty, tasty murder?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cayenne8 (626475)
      " Mammoth ribs :)

      *goes back to watching Flintstones*"

      Awww shit.

      I'm gonna have to buy a much LARGER smoker.....

  • by dfm3 (830843) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @07:59PM (#25839877) Journal

    The article hints at the possibility of bringing back other species, but doesn't elaborate. We have museum specimens of other extinct species such as the passenger pigeon [wikipedia.org], Carolina parakeet [wikipedia.org], and ivory-billed woodpecker, and those are certainly much more recent (all 3 species went extinct within the last century). Doesn't this open up the possibility of bringing back a few of these species, too?

  • more exciting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday November 20, 2008 @08:00PM (#25839895) Homepage Journal

    is, from the same story, relegated to second interest, for some reason, the idea of resurrecting a neanderthal, the same way as the woolly mammoth. using chimpanzee as the starting cell lineage rather than human, for ethical considerations of course

    but this guy won't be dumb. somebody will have to explain to him he's not the last of his kind... he is the 50,000 year old cloned reconstruction of his kind

    weird, lonely, and possible on our lifetime

    very cool, very freaky

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      "more exciting is... the idea of resurrecting a neanderthal"

      You know, I knew some slashdotters were desperate for a date, but I never suspected they were THAT desperate! On the bright side, they could do GEICO commercials without even using makeup!

      But seriously, the prospect of bringing a flawed misfit sentient being into this world and explaining to them "oh, by the way, your species is extinct!" doesn't seem very humane or ethical to me. How would you feel if you were resurrected by some other primates

      • but who said we only had to make one?

      • On the bright side, they could do GEICO commercials without even using makeup!

        Those guys are liars. They are clearly shown living in houses and apartments. They're not "cave men." They're just scrubs.

      • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @08:39PM (#25840277)

        But seriously, the prospect of bringing a flawed misfit sentient being into this world and explaining to them "oh, by the way, your species is extinct!" doesn't seem very humane or ethical to me.

        You know... I didn't think I'd be the one to tell you this... but Locke2005, have you ever wondered why you were so much hairier than your "biological" father? Ever wonder why kids giggled when your name "Ug" was read in classrooms, and why you prefer deerskin over cashmir?

        I'm sure you've come to the correct conclusion by now... If you don't believe me, the proof is right before your eyes. You're posting excitedly in a news post about mammoth burgers.

        I'll let you get back to your flint and tinder... and... we're sorry about your entire species.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      Funny, I would think that you would explain to him that he is the first of his kind in his species rebirth. I would think a good name for him would be Phoenix.
  • by FornaxChemica (968594) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @08:02PM (#25839917) Homepage Journal

    Of course that's fascinating, but what would they do with a mammoth? Polar bears are becoming endangered because of rising temperatures and mammoths have disappeared, supposedly because the climate was too warm. They'll have to build a large freezer to keep the beast alive--Jurassic Park meets Frosty the Snowman--or they might not find a place cold enough on Earth for that purpose.

    What about the Dodo [wikipedia.org]? Any bits left?

    That's a strange coincidence they're talking about this JP-like experiment a few weeks after Michael Crichton's death. Posthumous humour?

    • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @09:10PM (#25840573)

      What about the Dodo [wikipedia.org]? Any bits left?

      Save the dodo, extinct the coelacanth.

      "If the Universe came to an end every time there was some uncertainty about what had happened in it, it would never have got beyond the first picosecond. And many of course don't. It's like a human body, you see. A few cuts and bruises here and there don't hurt it. Not even major surgery if it's done properly. Paradoxes are just the scar tissue. Time and space heal themselves up around them and people simply remember a version of events which makes as much sense as they require it to make.

      "That isn't to say that if you get involved in a paradox a few things won't strike you as being very odd, but if you've got through life without that already happening to you, then I don't know which Universe you've been living in, but it isn't this one."

      "Well, if that's the case," said Richard, "why were you so fierce about not doing anything to save the dodo?"

      Reg sighed. "You don't understand at all. The dodo wouldn't have died if I hadn't worked so hard to save the coelacanth."

      "The coelacanth? The prehistoric fish? But how could one possibly affect the other?"

      "Ah. Now there you're asking. The complexities of cause and effect defy analysis. Not only is the continuum like a human body, it is also very like a piece of badly put up wallpaper. Push down a bubble somewhere, another one pops up somewhere else. There are no more dodos because of my interference. In the end I imposed the rule on myself because I simply couldn't bear it any more. The only thing that really gets hurt when you try and change time is yourself."

      -- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams

    • But we know already that the dodo was not good eating, so what would be the point of bringing it back. Besides, mankind was only indirectly responsible for its extinction. It was the animals that the sailors brought with them (pigs, cats and dogs, rats, and even monkeys) that did the dodo in.
  • by pinguwin (807635) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @08:12PM (#25840025)
    It's far from certain that mammoth died out simply from climate change. Take a look at this link: http://packrat.aml.arizona.edu/Journal/v37n1/vartanyan.html [arizona.edu] Mammoth survived thousands of years beyond what most people think, into historic times (1700 b.c) It was a place that man didn't reach (hmmm...coincidence?), but Wrangel Island was too small to support a large population of them. It seems that wherever man went, large animals encountered "climate change". I don't doubt that climate was an issue, but nor do I doubt that man was either.
  • Now we can get Neanderthal DNA and create an army of slaves for when the oil runs out.
  • by orkysoft (93727) <[moc.xoblaerym] [ta] [tfosykro]> on Thursday November 20, 2008 @08:45PM (#25840309) Journal

    Stephen Baxter's Behemoth [amazon.com] is an omnibus of three books which deal with mammoths. The third book is actually about mammoths being genetically engineered back into existence, and there is actually one individual who is halfway between elephant and mammoth. Very cool books.

  • Genetic expression is far more complex than we even imagined just a few years ago. Giving scientists a DNA map to use to recreate the organism would be like giving hurricane refugees a set of blueprints and telling them to go build their house...it takes more than the plans, it takes tools, skills, abilities, transcription information and techniques that simply do not exist and, in the case of transcription information, will never exist. This is all just PR with the wooly mammoth as a sexy icon. Who gets

  • Instead of fretting about the long-gone mammoth, [sciencedaily.com] why don't we prevent the extinction [bbc.co.uk] of thousands [wikipedia.org] of plant, [well.com] fish [greenpeace.org.uk] and animal [iucnredlist.org] species that is occurring EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY OF EVERY YEAR due to HUMAN ACTIVITY? [bbc.co.uk]

  • by kbob88 (951258) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @09:03PM (#25840493)

    Forget rides to the space station or owning an electronic car company... the new must-have for tech multi-millionaires should be having your own herd of resurrected extinct species.

    Somebody call Sergey and Larry and see if they can spare $10mm. Just don't fly the 767 for a few weeks and that'll save enough for the effort.

    Then call Elon Musk and see if he wants to recreate the dodo or the Tasmanian tiger.

    Or we make it trendy for celebrities -- forget adopting babies from Africa, the new trend is adopting and recreating extinct species! Get Angelina on board and everyone else will follow.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by smellsofbikes (890263)

      There's a series of books written by Jasper Fforde, starting with "The Eyre Affair", that are odd and funny science fiction books about an alternate universe where people truly care about books -- they have cults devoted to 'who really wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare' and such -- but one side-note is that many people own cloned dodos (the heroine of the story has one from a batch that went wrong, so it's kind of stupid and gimpy) but, more relevantly, a huge multinational company that serves as th

  • "The same technology could be applied to any other extinct species from which one can obtain hair, horn, hooves, fur or feathers, and which went extinct within the last 60,000 years, the effective age limit for DNA."
    Well, the mammoth technology works because they can implant the fertilised egg into an elephant, which is a close relative of the mammoth.

    What happens when you try to clone a Tasmanian tiger? Where do you put the fertilised egg? Tasmanian devils are probably the most closely related, but still v

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      "...But for my money, the clone I would most like to see is Otzi [about.com] everyone's favourite ice-man."

      What you fail to understand, in this instance, is that 'Otzi', the person, was a product of the time and environment in which he lived. Science would gain little from cloning him because his clone, a new, separate, human consciousness, would be a product of this time period. Humans have changed very little, from an evolutionary standpoint, since the conscious being that was 'Otzi' existed. The only
  • by SIR_Taco (467460) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @09:36PM (#25840803) Homepage

    bring Michael Crichton back! ... man that post anonymously button looks pretty good right now... oh well

  • Endangered Species? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by charlie763 (529636) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @11:18PM (#25841443) Homepage
    If one is made, would it then be considered an endangered species?
  • Aurochs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zygamorph (917923) on Thursday November 20, 2008 @11:38PM (#25841571)
    According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurochs [wikipedia.org] there was an attempt to recreate the extinct species of cow called an Auroch. The idea was to identify currently existing cattle that had partial Auroch ancestry and breed them, selecting for Auroch characteristics. Essentially you were building a gene pool that contained all the necessary genes mixed in with others, running everything through a filter and trying to just get the ones you wanted. They were partially successful

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