“Late last year, biologists looking for cave cockroaches accidentally discovered a dodo skeleton in the highlands of Mauritius.”
I love that line, do scientists live exciting lives or what? Yes, the dodo may live again. Scientists hope to extract the DNA from dodo bones discovered deep in a cave. The dodo was a flightless bird that lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. (A modern reconstruction is pictured above.) They went extinct within 80 years of human settlement on the island. They were basically a big flightless pigeon, dogs and rats made short work of them. They were also good eating, which didn’t help their cause any. And now, because of a lucky discovery by cockroach studying scientists, efforts to recreate the dodo may yield…dodos. With any lucky, dodo drumsticks coming soon to a Safeway® near you, who says science has no practical applications?
Actually, while dodo DNA may teach us a great deal about this bird, there’s no plans to recreate it anytime soon. Jurassic Park type science fiction aside, recreating extinct life from old DNA soups is still a ways down the road. These dodo bones should yield well preserved DNA, caves are usually dry and at a constant temperature, good for preserving things. The dodo in question has posthumously been named Fred. Fred fell down a hole in a cave and couldn’t get out. A common problem as I discovered myself while exploring old mine shafts in Nevada in my youth. It was not unusual to find mummified or skeletonized animals at the bottom of mines, it was kind of creepy actually.
Moving right along, I thought I’d check into and report on efforts to clone extinct animals. So far the only practical applications in this field is the cloning of rare and endangered animals. There’s been one success so far, a gaur was cloned, a rare Asian antelope. It died though, and there have been no further successes. Efforts are under way though to clone rare animals, such as a desperate attempt to save a species of turtle. Even if none of these efforts succeeds soon, at the least the DNA is being properly preserved so that when the engineering of cloning advances, we will have the DNA to clone from.
Degraded DNA is is why cloned dinosaurs and such are unlikely, it really doesn’t seem very likely that DNA can be preserved that long. The one attempt being made to recreate an “extinct” animal is an effort to recreate a breed of goat that the last one recently died, its DNA being carefully preserved before it passed on. Right now cloning is being used to clone individual high value animals, like prize bulls or beloved pets. It is poised to be used to clone animals that will enter the human food supply, at least in the USA it may soon be possible to eat cloned meat. I guess that’s OK, but still, do we really need to do this?
It gets worse. Aside from cloning animals, there’s other weirder stuff being done with this technology. Science has succeeded in cloning mice and pigs over many “generations” thus bringing closer the day when animals can be used to grow human organs. This isn’t new news, but for example I just heard that scientists have succeeding in making mice with functioning human brain cells. An animal with parts of two different animals was a mythical idea called a chimera. Now we can literally make animals out of the parts of different animals in the lab.
Including humans, as in this case with the mice with human brain cells. Um, gee, correct if I’m wrong, but isn’t this awfully close to creating a human mouse hybrid? I mean, we don’t think brain cells are self aware or have consciousness, but nonetheless these are functioning human stem cells living inside a mouse’s brain. Just using animals to grow human organs creeps me out, mice with human brain cells kinda scares me. I can see how this would aid in the study of human health, but still, I can also see why many people have ethical qualms about it.
And of course the obvious question, will mice with human brain cells be smarter than humans? I wonder if the fact we are actually conducting these Frankenstein type experiments says the answer is no. Going to be an interesting century, “leave your ethical qualms at the door” seems to be a recurring theme so far.
(A tip of the hat to Living Journey for alerting me to the mouse story.)
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