Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. In How to Clone a Mammoth, Beth Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in "ancient DNA" research, walks readers through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction. From deciding which species should be restored, to sequencing their genomes, to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild, Shapiro vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used--today--to resurrect the past. Journeying to far-flung Siberian locales in search of ice age bones and delving into her own research--as well as those of fellow experts such as Svante Paabo, George Church, and Craig Venter--Shapiro considers de-extinction's practical benefits and ethical challenges. Would de-extinction change the way we live? Is this really cloning? What are the costs and risks? And what is the ultimate goal?
Using DNA collected from remains as a genetic blueprint, scientists aim to engineer extinct traits--traits that evolved by natural selection over thousands of years--into living organisms. But rather than viewing de-extinction as a way to restore one particular species, Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. For example, elephants with genes modified to express mammoth traits could expand into the Arctic, re-establishing lost productivity to the tundra ecosystem.
Looking at the very real and compelling science behind an idea once seen as science fiction, How to Clone a Mammoth demonstrates how de-extinction will redefine conservation's future.
Shapiro, a University of California at Santa Cruz paleogenomics researcher and "enthusiastic realist," lays out a well-articulated argument for the "resurrection of ecological interactions" as the most appropriate goal of de-extinction research. She shows that programs with potential practical applications such as George Church's efforts to introduce the mammoth genes for "luxurious" hair and cold-resistant hemoglobin into an African elephant, in preparation for introducing a quasi-mammoth into Arctic habitat make more sense than trying to clone dinosaurs or dodos in order to assuage human guilt or indulge curiosity about seeing long-dead animals. Just as importantly, Shapiro strikes a blow for scientific literacy. Her professorial voice shines in her thoughtful roadmap for practical decision making in theory-heavy science, as well as in her efforts to "separate the science of de-extinction from the science fiction of de-extinction." To this end, she addresses ethical considerations and explains the current state of bioengineering technologies, including DNA recovery from ancient samples, polymerase chain reactions, genome reconstruction, somatic cell nuclear transfer, and germ cell nuclear transfer. Lay readers will emerge with the ability to think more deeply about the facts of de-extinction and cloning at a time when hyperbolic and emotionally manipulative claims about such scientific breakthroughs are all too common. Illus.