Okay, so there’s been a lot of chat regarding ancient DNA and Jurrasic Park and de-extinctifying species. (either that, or I’ve had an assignment on ancient DNA and everything just went from there…) But how legit is it?
While we’re not about to see Jurrasic Park (come on, there are THREE MOVIES about how that is a REALLY BAD IDEA) because DNA doesn’t really last for that long, so creating dinosaurs will be a lot of time, money, and guesswork; what is possible are things like Mammoths (of which we have an entire sequence(1)), Tasmanian tigers, Dodos, and personally, I am hanging out for Haast’s Eagle.
Not only have we sequenced the Mammoth genome, DNA isolated from Tasmanian tiger remains has been shown to work like normal in mouse models (2). There’s a very real possibility that we can start de-extinctifying (or reengineering) different species; provided there is a viable surrogate egg, and it’s not horrifically illegal.
There’s some pretty interesting legal and ethical issues when it comes to re-making species. It hasn’t been determined whether reengineered species are “genetically modified”, as they existed at some point in the form that we’re going to be making them. Oh, and nobody’s really talked about whether we *should* bring back species that have gone extinct yet.
There are pretty obvious concerns when it comes to making Neanderthal babies; they will be “human” but not quite human, nobody has determined what kind of rights a Neanderthal would have, and they had pretty big heads, so bearing + birthing one … wouldn’t be comfortable. However, when it comes to extinct animals, we appear to still be at the place of pretending that we won’t be able to bring back species from the dead in 5-10 years. It’s pretty important to remember that while a Mammoth would be cool, they went extinct at the end of the last ice age, and we haven’t exactly got arctic biomes to spare.
What about dinosaurs?
Well, dinosaurs would require a sort of “de-evolution” guesswork, where we take two related individuals, compare their genes, and try and infer the ancestral gene. It’s really unlikely that dinosaurs will be available in the near future, as that has to be done for *all* the genes, and then you’d need to try and put them together in chromosomes in the right orientation to do the right things…
What we might be able to do is “forward-engineer” birds to make them more dinosaur-like. They even get to keep their feathers!
1. Miller, Drautz, Ratan, Pusey, Qi, Lesk, Tomsho, Packard, Zhao, Sher, Tikhonov, Raney, Patterson, Lindblad-Toh, Lander, Knight, Irzyk, Frerikson, Harkins, SHeridan, Pringle, Schusterr (2008) “Sequencing the nuclear genome of the extinct woolly mammoth” Nature 456.7220: 387-390
2. Pask, Behringer, and Renfree (2008) "Resurrection of DNA funciton In Vivo from an Extinct Genome" PLoS One 3(5)