Zone in with Zon—Will Wooly Mammoths and Passenger Pigeons Return?

Dr. Gerald Zon’s latest blog post, dated January 20, 2014, and published by TriLink BioTechnologies of San Diego, focuses on the issue of “De-Extinction: Hope or Hype?” In this thought-provoking post, Dr. Zon asks if the wooly mammoth can be revived and if the passenger pigeon might be returned to flight. He then suggests that “facilitated adaptation” might be a more realistic approach. Initially, Dr. Zon describes a CBS News interview with Dr. Hendrik Poinar on the possibility of reestablishing wooly mammoths. Dr. Poinar specializes in the novel techniques to extract and analyze “molecular information (DNA and/or protein sequences)” from ancient samples and has already sequenced the mitochondrial genome of the long-extinct wooly mammoth. Dr. Poinar believes that it might indeed be possible to bring these extinct creatures back to life in 30 to 50 years time. When asked to describe how this would be done, he said, “First thing you have to do is to get the entire blueprint. We have mapped the genome of the woolly mammoth. We’re almost completely done with that as well as a couple other extinct animals. We can look at the discrete differences between a mammoth and an Asian elephant. We would take an Asian elephant chromosome and modify it with mammoth information. Technology at Harvard can actually do that. Take the modified chromosomes and put them into an Asian elephant egg. Inseminate that egg and put that into an Asian elephant and take it to term. It could be as soon as 20 years.” Dr. Zon next described the work of a determined young ecologist with no graduate degree, Ben Novak, who has devoted all his recent efforts to resurrecting the exinct passenger pigeon. This was once the United States’ most numerous bird at approximately 5 billion strong, according to Audubon, but died out completely by 1914.
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