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Oldest-Ever Proteins Extracted From 3.8-Million-Year-Old Ostrich Shells (sciencemag.org) 70

Slashdot reader sciencehabit writes: Scientists have smashed through another time barrier in their search for ancient proteins from fossilized teeth and bones, adding to growing excitement about the promise of using proteins to study extinct animals and humans that lived more than 1 million years ago. Until now, the oldest sequenced proteins are largely acknowledged to come from a 700,000-year-old horse in Canada's Yukon territory, despite claims of extraction from much older dinosaurs. Now geneticists report that they have extracted proteins from 3.8-million-year-old ostrich egg shells in Laetoli, Tanzania, and from the 1.7-million-year-old tooth enamel of several extinct animals in Dmanisi, Georgia...extinct horses, rhinos, and deer,
This raises the inevitable question. If we ever could clone a prehistoric species...should we?
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Oldest-Ever Proteins Extracted From 3.8-Million-Year-Old Ostrich Shells

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  • Should we? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I don't think "Should we?" is the question that will be the decision point. The decision point will be "Will it make money?" And the long term answer to that is Jurassic World, but one where the people don't get eaten.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I would suggest that we bring back Terror Birds [wikipedia.org] , because what we really need right now is a ten foot tall bird that can run about 30 mph so that we can limit the human presence in designated wild lands.

    • I don't get that people can think scientists are evil for resurrecting things but that other people aren't bad for wiping them out, destroying their habitats. etc.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Didn't you see Jurassic Park? That movie was awesome. So yes, yes we should.

      Just make sure to get Sam Grant all oiled up and ready for when it's go time.

    • The right answer is: if you can clone prehistoric species from PROTEIN, by all means, go ahead and show us how to do it. We have several Nobel prizes awaiting for you.

  • Of course! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drunken_boxer777 ( 985820 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @02:54PM (#52912793)

    Why would we pass up a chance to learn? Scientists from all branches of science learn by tinkering, and this would be another form, even if we only did it to validate our understanding (once sufficiently advanced) of how DNA sequences yield a very specific body pattern and size and set of behaviors.

    Besides, most people forget that the environment the dinosaurs lived in was very different from ours, both in temperature/climate and air composition, making it a much more difficult problem than "can we clone them?". For example, prehistoric insects were very large, larger than what the current oxygen levels in our atmosphere could support since they don't have lungs and breathe basically via diffusion. So, for specific values of "prehistoric" the difficulties involve artificial environments.

    • You are conflating two different times. While the (non-avian, see signature) dinosaurs were around, oxygen levels were within a few percent of our present atmospheric levels, though CO2 was at times considerably higher. Over 100 million years earlier however, in the Carboniferous period (Pennsylvanian/ Mississippian if you speak EN_US), the first insects were sometimes much larger than present insects and oxygen levels were up to about 30%.

      Personally, I blame the fungi. When they learned how to decompose l

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @03:02PM (#52912827)

    We'll need dinosaurs to help us fight our robots when they decide to subjugate us.

    p.s. - I got dibs on the movie rights.

  • by Kkloe ( 2751395 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @03:06PM (#52912853)
    and spare no expense
  • by darthsilun ( 3993753 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @03:10PM (#52912875)

    This raises the inevitable question. If we ever could clone a prehistoric species...should we?

    Perhaps we could focus on saving the fauna we have now that is on the verge of going extinct from a variety of reasons. E.g. the African megafauna that is being poached and other species whose habitat is disappearing.

    What do you think?

    • Perhaps we could focus on saving the fauna we have now that is on the verge of going extinct from a variety of reasons.

      I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

      If any extinct species deserves a second chance it should be mammoths. They only went extinct because we arrived as an invasive species and killed them all ourselves.

      • I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

        You must be new here!

      • They only went extinct because we arrived as an invasive species and killed them all ourselves.

        Do you have some data to support this assertion? In particular, something to support your claim that the mammoths on the Siberian island of Wrangel - the last to die out - actually had any contact with humans in the time before this population going extinct? Any evidence at all of humans being on Wrangel Island before 3000 BCE, when these mammoths died out.

        The Earth has had Egyptian Pyramids longer than it has no

    • Because if they can bring species back from extinction, then keeping endangered species from going extinct becomes trivially easy. And if they do, just bring them back again.

      Also, in a world where elephants/mammoths can be reliably (and cheaply) cloned and bred, ivory would become about as valuable as beef, thus negating the benefits of poaching.

      But since I'm not a nutcase who thinks "they'll be able to do this in ten years!", for now I'm all for keeping the endangered animals we already have alive.

      • Also, in a world where elephants/mammoths can be reliably (and cheaply) cloned and bred, ivory would become about as valuable as beef,

        But we could achieve the same tomorrow simply by impaling any person caught with any ivory on a stake at the entrance of the airport where they're found. The screams and groans of the impaled criminals would depress the price of ivory just as well, and need no more than (1) political will, (2) trained sniffer dogs, and (3) stick sharpening. One of those requirements is diffic

        • But we could achieve the same tomorrow simply by impaling any person caught with any ivory on a stake at the entrance of the airport where they're found. The screams and groans of the impaled criminals would depress the price of ivory just as well,

          I can't tell if you're joking, you seem serious. That is ludicrously excessive. I am amazed that some people have such a high level of emotion for animals, but won't even blink at the idea impaling a man (one who is likely hunting the elephants out of sheer desperation). It's garbage like that keeping normal human beings from taking animal rights activists seriously.

          • Oh no. Dead serious. There has been fuck all success in controlling the movement of ivory, or the poaching. Stringing up a few of the end-users in public might be more successful. Similarly, sine the "War on Drugs" has been sooooo successful, then maybe simply stopping people on the street, checking their blood for blow or coke, and if they fail shooting them there and then would probably reduce demand. No demand, and the business chain collapses.

            That this is not done - at least, not in the consuming count

  • .. we should, I like Ostrich on my plate with brocolli, fried chip potatoes (Bratkartoffeln) and a souce made with from the rinse of the frying pan with some sour cream where the Ostrich steak was kissed by the hot steel for a short amount of time.

    I like my steaks always rare - this prevents 80% of the cooks to fry the steak to shoe sole when protein extraction from that piece of charcoal is next to impossible!

  • "This raises the inevitable question. If we ever could clone a prehistoric species...should we?"

    Of course.

    Because we humans are gods (in the Greek sense of the word).

    • also there is hilarity factor if big bad creature actually gets loose and maybe even eats a couple douche-bags (idea: set one loose in Wall Street right after market close). Jurassic Park has given me enormous expectations

    • Hmmm. Hubris.

      If I were you, I'd look up what happened in Greek mythology to people who expressed hubris.

      • I know the term. But I happen to disagree with it.

        That's why I said, Gods as in: the Greek Gods. Contrary to our contemporary idea about god, the Greek gods were full of flaws, and knew things like envy, revenge, pettiness, and all other 'human' emotions, good and bad. Including hubris. ;-)

        They didn't differ from humans on a psychological and emotional level, thus... only they had vast powers exceeding anything a human had back than, and immortal life.

        We currently already have vast powers. With things we co

  • Keep dreaming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by minkwe ( 222331 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @04:12PM (#52913149) Journal

    I don't know how the reporter thinks this discovery could ever lead to cloning of such an organism. A typical eukaryote has 20,000 to 100,000 proteins in its proteome. Even viruses could have hundreds of proteins. To clone an organism, you will need to have a full copy of its DNA (or RNA in the case of RNA viruses). That means prestine samples of all proteins from the proteome. Even having that is not enough, since going from proteins to DNA is not straightforward -- since proteins are often modified after translation. Even then, you also need non-protein encoding DNA which is just as important for the survival of the organism.

    I would say it is a pipe dream to start thinking of cloning, based on finding a fragment of a pre-historic protein. Rather than speculate about cloning, there are a lot of other very useful questions this discovery can answer, such as how that protein has evolved with respect similar proteins modern variants of the same species. We could perhaps then understand what micro-evolutionary pressures could have influenced (or not influenced) the evolution of a species such as an ostrich which has survived all these years.

    • If you was a DeVry grad at science like what me is you'd know how to copy the missing bits from a frog.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      OK, so Jurassic-Park is pure fantasy, but I'm still holding out hope for cloning a 10,000 year-old Wooly Mammoth.

      And if you want a real ethical problem, what if we could clone and give birth to real Neanderthals, using DNA fragments from 40,000 yo frozen specimens?
      I'd do it, just for the spectacle of seeing the lawyers and priests struggling with it.

      • Neanderthals, using DNA fragments from 40,000 yo frozen specimens

        Do these exist? I haven't heard of them, and I have heard Svante PÃÃbo bemoaning the lack of such samples just a few years ago. Therefore you're talking about a new discovery.

        • by quenda ( 644621 )

          Do these exist?

          No. I'm not even sure it is possible. It was a hypothetical question. Imagine the legal and ethical minefield.

          • I would suspect that the legal and ethical minefield would pretty much vanish if (1) the genome you attempted to clone was from a dozen or two partial genomes glued together (which is immensely more likely than getting a single genome from a single sample), and (2) you were working with non-human animals. We still don't provide any legal support for chimps, so anything other than a bona fide hoomin is going to be short on luck.

            Ethical considerations don't extend beyond national boundaries, so if someone de

            • by quenda ( 644621 )

              Neanderthals are/were human, just not homo sapiens. Fire, tools, bigger brains than us, probably language. They may even have been more intelligent than some modern stone-age indigenous peoples. And close enough to us that a modern human could be a surrogate mother.

              It looks like resurecting them may be a real possibility: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

              • Got to go shopping, so don''t have time to follow up on any papers referenced in the Wiki article you cite (yet).

                I'm aware that Paabo and cow-orkers have improved the coverage of the Neanderthal genome over the years. But that's a hard question for species recovery, if for no other reason than the very close coupling between nuear genes and mitochondrial genes. There are enough known problems under the general heading of "mitochondrial disease" in present humans to anticipate real problems mixing genes fro

  • No It Doesn't (Score:4, Insightful)

    by careysub ( 976506 ) on Sunday September 18, 2016 @05:16PM (#52913527)

    "This raises the inevitable question. If we ever could clone a prehistoric species...should we?"

    This find raises no such question. Proteins have nothing to do with cloning.

    For that you need DNA. We can reconstruct genomes of some ancient animals, that died within the last few tens of thousands of years and were preserved in frozen strata. Clever reconstructions are necessary to put the fragments back together, but still here are usually errors and gaps that must be filled in with modern related organisms. Older DNA is probably hopeless for organism reconstruction, though the fragments can be used for taxonomic work.

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      Moreover, we're already attempting to clone woolly mammoths.

      • Mammoth steak is supposed to be delicious.

      • Some Japanese (and/ or Korean) people are talking about this. I haven't heard of them making significant progress though. For example, in selecting samples to work from.

        Considering that "mammoth" covers a lot of sins, you're going to have to be pretty careful about your sample selection. You wouldn't, comparably, want to mix DNA from an Indian Zebu cow, a walking corpse in a McDonalds feed lot in America, and an aurochs only a thousand or so years older than the other two samples. And we haven't even got o

    • by Minupla ( 62455 )

      This find raises no such question

      I respectfully disagree. I'd argue the find suggests that it is theoretically possible to find or interpolate an intact DNA strand from a long extinct creature. That SHOULD raise the question of weather it's right to do so.

      It takes time to come to a cultural consensus on these things. The right time to have the conversation is now, not when some grad student shows up at her university's ethics panel saying "I can haz baby Tyrannosaurus Rex?"

      That moment is far too late and

    • Well, we can just fill the gaps with frog DNA, can't we?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This raises the inevitable question: Do Slashdot editors even understand the articles they submit?

    • Do Slashdot editors even understand the articles they submit?

      Ought they?

      (Incidentally, whoever is behind that AC has clearly never even attempted to submit a story, so he (or she ; unlikely but not impossible) doesn't know what the editors actually do do.)

  • "This raises the inevitable question. If we ever could clone a prehistoric species...should we?"

    First, thanks for not using 'begs the question'.

    Second, sure, we should clone a Neanderthal to challenge the Donald.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is all false. The Earth is only 3,000 years old. Mike Huckabee told me so. Humans rode dinosaurs and CO2 cools the Earth. #Trump2016!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You can't clone an organism from a protein sequence, so I don't see how finding one raises the "If we ever could clone a prehistoric species...should we?" question at all ... Get an intact 3.8 million year old DNA sequence of a critter with a closely related living relative, and then we can have a fun and interesting debate!

  • We should totally bring them back. And not just for the inevitable Lulz that would come from the poorly informed religious crazies doing their nuts. We could learn staggering amounts about life itself, not to mention the evolutionary process by studying them. I know they wouldn't be perfect replicas, coded instincts may be lost etc, but the sheer volume and quality of data we would generate in even trying would be incredibly beneficial. Not to mention that a properly funded program would be the biotech equi
  • I can see strong ethical questions being raised if this were some kind of proto-ape or early human species under discussion. I don't see any ethical question about bringing back a bird or other kind of mammal.
  • You never know what important information you will learn when pursuing any knowledge. The number of discoveries made by "studying something else" are uncountable: penicillin, dynamite, and amnesia inducing timetravel are just three examples of this.

    Most obviously, resurrecting dead species could help us understand evolution better, or even help us with conservation of existing species by examining what is different and what is the same. Bringing mammoths back could help in our understanding of elephants.

  • Sure. Yet, firstly, we should evolve into a truly responsible species!

    That is, we need to really be sure we know how to correctly do it, and are fully able to realize the full extent, and ramifications, beyond any doubt, of what we are doing.
    Obviously, the vast majority of our species are simply stuck at the "monkey with a machine gun" mentality.
    e.g.:
    Jihadists: Do they really think they got it right?
    Trump supporters: Do they actually realize what they'd be voting for?
    Nuclear power: Now what do

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