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Scientists To Breed the Auroch From Extinction 277

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-by-popular-demand dept.
ImNotARealPerson writes "Scientists in Italy are hoping to breed back from extinction the mighty auroch, a bovine species which has been extinct since 1627. The auroch weighed 2,200 pounds (1000kg) and its shoulders stood at 6'6". The beasts once roamed most of Asia and northern Africa. The animal was depicted in cave paintings and Julius Caesar described it as being a little less in size than an elephant. A member of the Consortium for Experimental Biotechnology suggests that 99% of the auroch's DNA can be recreated from genetic material found in surviving bone material. Wikipedia mentions that researchers in Poland are working on the same problem."
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Scientists To Breed the Auroch From Extinction

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  • Is 99% enough? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ustolemyname (1301665) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:32AM (#30842194)
    See, given that our genetic similarity so many known animals is at least 95%, would 99% of the dna really be enough to recreate the animal? It appears as though small differences (1% of a very large number of genes is a large number of genes) are sufficient to make a new species, or, most likely, a non-functioning animal.

    Would love to be proved wrong.
  • Spelling (Score:2, Informative)

    by Fjodor42 (181415) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:33AM (#30842200) Homepage

    Aurochs, the "ochs"-part meaning "ox" and the "aur" being a nomer for something like "original" or "ancestral"...

  • Re:Is 99% enough? (Score:5, Informative)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:36AM (#30842218) Homepage

    Considering that the aurochs is the ancestor of all domestic cattle, it just *might* be possible to come up with viable substitutes for the missing 1%.

  • by auric_dude (610172) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:50AM (#30842334)
    A 30min radio offering via bbc iplayer [] (runs until 9:32pm Thursday 21st January 2010 ) covers the trip to Munich Zoo by John Ronson. "Jon Ronson investigates the controversial story of the work of Lutz Heck, the director of Berlin Zoo who attempted to resurrect several pure-blooded, extinct animal species as part of the Nazi programme to control the genetic destiny of all creation. He visits Munich Zoo, which proudly advertises its 'formerly extinct aurochs' - a type of large and powerful cow - but does not refer to the fact that behind this apparent triumph lies the story of Heck's collusion with Goering's aspiration to replace Europe's 'racially degenerate' wildlife and plant life with pure, 'noble' and extinct species."
  • Size (Score:5, Informative)

    by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:55AM (#30843092) Journal
    TFS says "The auroch weighed 2,200 pounds (1000kg) and its shoulders stood at 6'6". The beasts once roamed most of Asia and northern Africa. The animal was depicted in cave paintings and Julius Caesar described it as being a little less in size than an elephant."

    Some modern horses weigh over a ton (shire horse is up to 1½ ton, brabant horse average over 1 ton, clydesdale horses typically about 1 ton), bulls in some breeds of cattle can be up to 1½ tons, and the American Bison occasionally exceeds a ton also. These animals would hardly be described as just a little less than an elephant in size, so we're looking at a certain amount of exaggeration or hoopla in TFS and TFA.

    BTW, the record weight for a bull is 1740 kg, so the Auroch hardly merits being referred to as a "giant"
  • by jandersen (462034) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @05:08AM (#30843674)

    It is called aurochs, not "auroch", as one would realize by clicking the Wikipedia link provided. It is a German word and means "Ancient Ox".

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @05:13AM (#30843690) Homepage Journal

    There's more than one kind of elephant.

    In fact in Caesar's time there was a third kind - the North African elephant. These were used in war, most famously by Hannibal and so that's probably the sort he was familiar with. They were pretty small, as elephants go.

  • Re:Is 99% enough? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Xest (935314) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @05:19AM (#30843724)

    More to the point, even if they can the question is how much DNA they can salvage from different individual members of the species.

    The problem with ressurecting a species with cloning and DNA techniques like this is not simply a case of bringing one animal back, but that you need to bring multiple animals back all from different recovered DNA sources.

    The reason for this is because creating clones from a single individual will leave you with a population without any real genetic variability and so you will end up with a population that cannot really evolve to cope with disease and so forth (including those that have arisen since it's extinction). Bringing an individual clone of a species back is one thing, but bringing back a viable population is even more difficult.

    This is why we would struggle even more to bring back longer extinct species like the dodo or the mammoth because we're finding it a hell of a challenge to recover the DNA of just one individual, let alone a batch of individuals with DNA that is distinct enough to create a viable population that's not basically just inbred.

    Of course, that's not to put down the achievement, it's a great first step and hopefully will lead to us producing the technology to bring back entire viable breeding populations that can cope with disease and so forth. It may be that we can even introduce artificial changes to the DNA to artificially create this variability but even that would be difficult to get right to the point we're able to mimic naturally evolved variability between individuals of a species.

    For what it's worth, we've actually had similar problems in the past, where we've had entire types of banana go extinct because they were all clones of each other and hence couldn't resist disease so it's not even a theoretical problem, it can and does happen- you need variability within a species to keep it viable in the long run.

  • by Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:22AM (#30843992) Homepage
    As it turns out if you recall the very popular series "Sliders", that explores scenarios where the scientists didn't do that sort of research in alternate earths. Very interesting stuff, we need more of that sort of entertainment, espscially with its emphasis on non violence.
  • by Moryath (553296) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @10:24AM (#30845444)

    Actually, there's more than two kinds today.

    The problem is that people get given simplistic data and forget their history.

    So far we "know" of four currently living species based on DNA analysis; more may be recognized as the DNA analysis of the various groups is ongoing.

    There's the "Asian Elephant", currently separated into three subspecies (Sri Lankan, Sumatran, and Mainland/Indian) and the recently-acknowledged full species, the Borneo Pygmy elephant (which actually is sized similar to the extinct species that made up the bulk of Hannibal's herd). There's also the possibility that the Laotian populations are a true subspecies.

    Then there's the "African Elephant", which is actually two species (African Forest Elephant and African Bush Elephant). The African Pygmy Elephant (Loxodonta pumilio or Loxodonta fransseni) is currently considered a "morph", but might be a subspecies or full species, again pending research and time for the populations to continue diverging.

    None of these are what the Romans were used to, however. The Romans used the North African Elephant (Loxodonta africana pharaoensis), sometimes considered a subspecies and sometimes a full species, and the Syrian Elephant (Elephas maximus asurus, sometimes referred to as mere Asian Elephants, sometimes considered a subspecies, sometimes considered a full species). Both of the lines of what the Romans used are considered extinct today. There are also a number of other extinct Elephant lines that had contact with people: Elephas maximus rubridens aka the Chinese Elephant, a number of "Pygmy" elephant species that shrank due to island habitats, several species of the subgenus Paleoloxodon (including the Mediterranean Dwarf elephants, skulls of which found on Cyprus, Crete, and Sicily could have given rise to the idea of the "Cyclops")...

  • Re:Yum (Score:4, Informative)

    by ari_j (90255) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @11:12AM (#30846084)
    Bison are from the genus Bison. Buffalo are apparently from the geni Syncerus (African buffalo) or Bubalus (water buffalo and its smaller cousins). But since they are all from the Bovinae subfamily and "buffalo" includes more than one genus, I personally don't see why it's so incorrect to refer to the bison as the American buffalo.
  • Re:Yum (Score:3, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @06:25PM (#30852862) Homepage Journal

    They were on the edge of extiction until they were commercially marketed,

    Er, not quite. They were on the verge of extinction because of the wholesale slaughter for their hides due in large part to poachers as well as the railroads who wanted to use the land. Their meat was rarely used by the white man.

    And yet their numbers were still very low and their population confined to a single area until they were commercially marketed for their meat. Reading comprehension is a terrible thing to waste.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?