Real Resurrection

Science, technology, and life.
Nov. 28 2008 7:30 AM

Real Resurrection

When I wrote last week about the possibility of

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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through cloning, I felt a bit sensationalist. Would scientists really do that? It sounded unlikely.

Now I'm less incredulous. Agence France Presse reports :

Japanese scientists said [Nov. 18] they had created a cloned embryo from the dead body of an endangered species of rabbit and are hoping for a birth. ... Professor Yoshihiko Hosoi of Kinki University ... said his team had extracted a cell from a dead Amami rabbit's ear and put it into the egg of an ordinary rabbit. "After we confirmed that the egg developed into a cloned embryo, we put it back into the fallopian tube of the host mother," Hosoi said. "In about 30 days the host mother may give birth to a baby rabbit which has the gene information of Amami rabbit."

Kinki, indeed. So the due date for this clone of a dead member of a dying species is somewhere in mid-December. And this comes just six months after scientists reported in PLOS One :

We isolated a transcriptional enhancer element from the genome of an extinct marsupial, the Tasmanian tiger ... obtained from 100 year-old ethanol-fixed tissues from museum collections. ... Using a transgenic approach, it was possible to resurrect DNA function in transgenic mice. ... Our method using transgenesis can be used to explore the function of regulatory and protein-coding sequences obtained from any extinct species in an in vivo model system, providing important insights into gene evolution and diversity.

There you have it: a rationale for, and pilot demonstration of, the resurrection of DNA from extinct species. Tissue taken from a museum and brought to life in a mouse.

You can save a species by cloning new members from its corpses. Or you can reactivate part of the DNA of an extinct species by integrating it into an existing species. Or you can reassemble a whole member of an extinct species (the mammoth ) by incrementally reengineering its known DNA from a closely related existing species (the Indian elephant ). Scientists seem to be making progress on the first two ideas. It's hard to believe they won't try the third.