Friday, July 13, 2007

Dodos and Mammoths: The DNA Hunt

It's been quite a month for the potential discovery of ancient DNA.

First up is the recent discovery of a well preserved Dodo skeleton on the island of Mauritius. National Geographic News has the story...
Researchers say the find would likely yield the first useful samples of the extinct, flightless bird's DNA. Very little has been known about the dodo—from what exactly it looked like to what it ate—since it became extinct in the 1600s.

The new skeleton is thought to be complete and was likely preserved by its cave setting. The cavers found the remains off the coast of Africa on Mauritius, the only island were dodos were known to have lived.
Far to the North, a baby mammoth has been unearthed in Siberia and is due to be shipped to Japan for analysis. It is said to be the best preserved specimen of its type, and some scientists are desperate to try and recover some intact DNA to attempt a cloning process. BBC News has the story (including a video report)...
The six-month-old female calf was discovered on the Yamal peninsula of Russia and is thought to have died 10,000 years ago.

The animal's trunk and eyes are still intact and some of its fur remains on the body.
[...]
Larry Agenbroad, director of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs research centre in South Dakota, US, said: "To find a juvenile mammoth in any condition is extremely rare." Dr Agenbroad added that he knew of only three other examples.

Some scientists hold out hope that well preserved sperm or other cells containing viable DNA could be used to resurrect the mammoth lineage.

Despite the inherent difficulties, Dr Agenbroad remains optimistic about the potential for cloning.

"When we got the Jarkov mammoth [found frozen in Taimyr, Siberia, in 1997], the geneticists told me: 'if you can get us good DNA, we'll have a baby mammoth for you in 22 months'," he told BBC News.

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