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Biotech

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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  • Yum (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ari_j (90255) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:19AM (#30842118)
    It sounds delicious.
    • Re:Yum (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Some Guy (21271) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:24AM (#30842148) Homepage

      Wonder what it tastes like?

      [*Gets in line first*]

    • Doesn't some fat Roman governor serve aurochs at an orgy in Asterix in Helvetia?

    • by camperslo (704715)

      If they're considering the possibility of the Auroch being used for food (I guess it was before if it was hunted so much), it's fair to ask what advantages it might have over modern cattle.
      Specifically I'm wondering about the carbon footprint per pound of meat, milk etc.

      Can industry be trusted to act responsibly? I was shocked to learn how far a large cattle operation in California went to alter what was being taught (or wasn't) at a University well know for Agriculture.

      http://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/lo [sanluisobispo.com]

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by obarthelemy (160321)

        I don't think that's the point... they're doing it 'coz they can.

        I'm holding out for dinosaurs myself... or the dodo bird. An oversize gazelle doesn't sound like much fun.

      • 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 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.

          • by osgeek (239988)

            Oh, great.... now they'll have to bring back the North African elephant to validate this claim. Then there's the whole "mice scare elephants" wisdom, which some researchers say was only true with North African elephants and Eastern Egyptian mice.

            This could take a while.

            • In fact in Caesar's time there was a third kind - the North African elephant.

              now they'll have to bring back the North African elephant to validate this claim. Then there's the whole "mice scare elephants" wisdom, which some researchers say was only true with North African elephants and Eastern Egyptian mice.

              At which point, to get rid of the extinct Eastern Egyptian mice, they'll have to bring back the extinct European Lion, and slightly older Smilodon (saber-toothed cat).

              And to get rid of them, they'll have to save from extinction the nearly-extinct Gorillas.

              And to get rid of these, the scientist will have to bring back the Ice-Age winters, so the Gorilla freezes to death.

          • 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")...

    • Linguist Protest (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dierdorf (37660)

      I'm amazed that nobody has commented that one of the beasties is (or was) an AUROCHS, not an "auroch". Two of 'em would be auroches or aurochsen. Talking about an "auroch" is like talking about a Chinee or Portugee. More to the point, it would be like talking about "ock" as the singular of oxen, since "ox" is the second syllable of aurochs.

    • Trademark the name McAuroch - you'll make a fortune.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pharmboy (216950)

      Actually, being delicious may make them go from being extict->recreated->common. Look at the mighty buffalo of the midwest. They were on the edge of extiction until they were commercially marketed, which made it viable to raise them as livestock, which made their numbers swell. In many parts of central USA you can buy buffalo meat, which many say is very lean and good tasting.

  • 99%? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by telomerewhythere (1493937) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:32AM (#30842192)

    I know it's no longer accurate, but for the longest geneticists thought humans and chimps were 99% similar genetically.... but there does seem to be a gulf...

    OTOH, in unrelated cow developments, (not new) is the Super Cow [doobybrain.com]

    • Maybe it a bit like a linux system running gimp and a linux system running mplayer are 99% identical if you count the kernel, libc, etc.

  • 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.
    • 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 omfgnosis (963606)

        It's not inconceivable that the differences between the missing 1% and that 1% taken from domestic cattle would lead a species which would otherwise integrate with its habitat to become invasive or destructive. It's also not inconceivable that it would weaken the species and lead to its eventual re-extinction. It's also not inconceivable that there's all sorts of other possibilities no one will consider before doing it.

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

      by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:40AM (#30842252) Homepage Journal

      Presumably, it depends on which 99% they've recovered. If it includes all or most of the genes that make an aurochs an aurochs rather than Bessie, they're good to go.

      Also, TFA says they're not trying to create an aurochs genome de novo. They're carefully breeding modern cattle to try to get a genome that's as close as possible to the reconstructed aurochs genome. So the intermediate generations may not be aurochs, exactly, but they won't be nonviable; they'll just be different breeds of cow.

    • by rockNme2349 (1414329) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @01:42AM (#30842718)

      They can just fill in the missing 1% with frog DNA.

      • by ectoraige (123390)

        Surely there's some raptor DNA available; what could possibly go wrong?

      • Now we all know that there's "some species of African frog which can change its sex from female to male in a single sex environment."

        This might make for some interesting batches of milk.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      The Aurochs is extinct there is no DNA to compare to, what you will get is yet another variant of Heck Cattle, i.e. another breed of cattle

      You cannot "breed back" to an extinct species, what you will get at best is an animal similar in most respects to the original, but since the original died out so long ago there is very little information left about it ....

      Guesswork plus a discredited theory does not equal resurrection of an extinct species

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Xest (935314)

      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 e

  • Spelling (Score:2, Informative)

    by Fjodor42 (181415)

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

  • by cgenman (325138) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:43AM (#30842270) Homepage

    A bit offtopic, I know, but can we please stop referring to everyone and everything as scientists? If you need better terms, try "Geneticists" or "Breeders" or "Italians." Saying that Scientists are going to do it is an overused catch-all phrase that doesn't actually add any information. What, could it have been that Creationists were going to breed the auroch from extinction? Linguists? Liberal arts majors?

    • by ari_j (90255) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:57AM (#30842388)
      I usually read "scientists" as "astrologers" to ensure that I don't fall victim to any kind of argument to authority. :P
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by hey! (33014)

        So what happens if you start finding yourself believing astrologers?

        Really, if you want to distrust what scientists say, your best option is to *become* one. Here's an actual quote from a recent issue of Science News

        Lovejoy's hypothesis is an interesting 'just so' story. He's rapidly becoming the Rudyard Kipling of paleoanthropology.

        Meow! Take that! And look at those *shoes* he's wearing.

        And consider: that was a scientist talking to a science journalist with a notebook and pencil in hand. This kind of mean-girl talk is a lot more common when they don't think the public is talking. Ever see the actual comments scientists

        • by brian0918 (638904)

          So what happens if you start finding yourself believing astrologers?

          If their arguments are sound, then they should be believed. If they simply point to the stars - well that is not a sound argument. The point is to remove the person from the claim, and focus on the reasons for the claim.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ari_j (90255)
            Exactly. The person and his claims should be evaluated independently. You shouldn't disbelieve everything an astrologer says just because he's an astrologer, nor should you believe everything that a whale biologist [theinfosphere.org] says just because he's a whale biologist.
    • by lawpoop (604919)

      A bit offtopic, I know, but can we please stop referring to everyone and everything as scientists?

      Are you saying that anyone who does experimentation with DNA is thereby a scientist? I would disagree.

      I don't think anybody *is* referring to everyone and everything as scientists. I think they only do it when the people doing whatever are actually connected to a university, or receive government funding for research. What it means is that the people who are doing this have some social legitimacy in so doing; it's not just a guy in his back yard doing DNA splicing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Fred_A (10934)

        Are you saying that anyone who does experimentation with DNA is thereby a scientist?

        I thought the common term for those people was "parents". And apparently it doesn't seem to require a degree (although from what I see around me, maybe it should).

    • But none of those terms so readily prepare my brain to imagine a team of white-coated madmen performing reckless experiments on the fringes of modern technological capability. When I hear "scientists" I get excited like that.
    • by forkazoo (138186)

      What, could it have been that Creationists were going to breed the auroch from extinction? Linguists? Liberal arts majors?

      That's absurd. Creationists, Linguists, and Liberal Arts Majors don't try to breed cows! They try to breed with them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      What, could it have been that Creationists were going to breed the auroch from extinction?

      Well, no, Creationists pray for it, and get one delivered to them from heavens right there and then.

      In any case, I think that "scientists do $something_awesome" is a traditional, respected, and still wonderful meme of its own. It reinforces the notion that so many cool things that we have, we owe to science; which just happens to be something well worthy reminding about these days.

    • by tbradshaw (569563)

      I'm under the impression that projects like this are generally taken on by cross-disciplinary teams, scientists is a general term that works nicely for a term that includes geneticists, biologists, experimental/rigorous breeders, etc.

      I mean, it's clear that the people undertaking this project are "doing science", it's hard to say for sure (especially as an uninformed reporter) exactly what kind of scientists are doing the work.

    • Scientists report that scientists are doing studies on monkeys to see if monkeys would make good scientists. It's not all good news though, some scientists may be out of a job. Unless, of course, they happen to be monkeys.

      Courtesy of the Brak show.

  • by auric_dude (610172) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:50AM (#30842334)
    A 30min radio offering via bbc iplayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00hc946/b00hc6xc/Jon_Ronson_and_the_Quest_for_the_Aryan_Cow/ [bbc.co.uk] (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."
  • by Dunx (23729) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:56AM (#30842382) Homepage

    This is great and all, but it's also something that the Nazis were doing before WWII - there are quite a lot of these Heck cattle still around. There was even a radio programme on the BBC about it a week or so ago.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heck_cattle [wikipedia.org]

    Maybe the Italians and the Poles are using a technique closer to cloning, but why then talk about breeding back - the same methodology that the Hecks used?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by CrashandDie (1114135)
      Godwin's law!
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Thursday January 21, 2010 @01:58AM (#30842820) Homepage Journal

      The main difference, I think -- besides the fact that the Nazis were motivated by loony ideology and the modern researchers, presumably, are motivated by scientific curiosity -- is that the Hecks could only breed for phenotype, while the groups currently working on the problem are breeding for genotype. A project like this is really impossible without modern DNA sequencing technology.

      That being said, it would be interesting to know how close the Hecks got. The Wiki article doesn't mention if there's been any comparison of the Heck genome to the reconstructed aurochs genome; I'd like to know the results of such a study.

      It's also amusing to speculate what would have happened if sequencing had been available back then. Der Fuehrer's apoplexy upon learning that an awful lot of the Jews and Slavs he was bent on exterminating were genetically indistinguishable from the general German population would have been a site to behold.

      • Site?

        Anyway, there are people that will believe something despite being presented with facts that show something contrary. Hitler was known to be pretty irrational. He didn't like that Jesse Owens showed up his ideologies, and it still didn't stop him from continuing to cling to those ideologies.

    • by hey! (33014)

      So you're saying this is kind of like BSD and Linux. There should have been only *one* effort to resurrect Unix, a commercially extinct operating system.

  • Mandatory (Score:2, Funny)

    by TandooriC (1525601)
    I for one welcome our new bio-engineered bovine overlords.
  • It's called an aurochs [wizards.com]. Research fail.
  • I knew it a long time ago that i would live long enough to see Jurassic Park happen.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Krupuk (978265)
      Jurassic Park? The aurochs went extinct in 1627, so it would be more like Medieval Park.
  • 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".

  • anyone else read this as "Auror" at the first glance? ;-)

  • Problem? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TerribleThing (1058556) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @09:45AM (#30845056)
    "researchers in Poland are working on the same problem."

    Problem?
  • by jimbobborg (128330)

    Who's going to be the first to ride one of these in a rodeo? I'm surprised no one even mentioned this.

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