DNA Day experts answer your questions about DNA and extinct species

Above: Image © Public Domain

Jurassic park was just a movie but some scientist beleive that they can retrieve viable DNA from extinct species and reintroduce them back into nature. Fact or fiction?

I suppose anything is possible with enough resources and time, but there are several practical impediments for the foreseeable future. First is DNA quality. For "recent" extinct species like wooly mammoth, there are some pretty well preserved frozen samples that could be reasonably sequenced to catalog their genetic content. For older samples like in Jurassic Park, even if they were frozen (which they were not), high energy cosmic rays do a number on the genome over the eons leaving only tiny chemically modified DNA fragments. If you manage to get enough good ancient DNA to sequence and assemble completely, you need to synthesize this genome error-free. Once you synthesize this genome, you need to find a host organism to act as the extinct species' mother. MAYBE an elephant would work for a wooly mammoth, but it seems very unlikely that a reptile or bird egg would work for a dinosaur though without MANY years of experimentation. Despite the many news stories of success, scientists still have a hard enough time doing this successfully with sheep, in sheep, with natural DNA.

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon

Could an extinct animal be brought back to life through it's DNA?

Hah! Good question. There's been a lot of talk about this, like re-creating the wooly mammoth. If you could get really well-preserved DNA from, say, a frozen mammoth in Siberia, and you could insert that into an elephant's ovum .... (kind of like cloning) AND you could fertilize that egg, then you would get a half-elephant, half-mammoth embryo. That's not quite good enough, right? So ideally you'd continue this to keep increasing the percentage of mammoth genes, until you got something close to the original. back to mammoths for a second - even most bison today (and there are about 800,000 in North America) are not genetically pure. Most have traces of cow genes from attempts year ago to breed cows with bison.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram


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