Sequencing the Mammoth Genome

Mammoth (Pennsylvania State -- Schuster & Miller)

With the exception of the dinosaurs, few extinct creatures are as fascinating for humankind as the Woolly Mammoth.

Penn State University provides a fascinating portrait of the work of the two principal scientists engaged in sequencing the genome of the Woolly Mammoth. Aside from an interesting and diverting tale of discovery, Mammoth Achievement includes a series of engaging nuggets such as these three brief excerpts:

“‘This field of synthetic biology is unfolding as we speak,’ Schuster says. ‘We will be able to design entire organisms, and as a side product we will one day be able to synthesize the chromosomes of extinct animals. However—and here is my word of caution—at the moment when we are actually capable of doing this, the technology will have such profound impacts on human society that I don’t think we will have much interest in a folly like resurrecting a mammoth.’”

. . .

“Already, he and Miller have turned their attention to more recent cases of extinction, like the Tasmanian tiger, a wolf-like marsupial also known as the thylacine. ‘One of the things we want to see is what does a population look like 10 years before it goes extinct, or 20, or 30 years,’ explains Miller. “We can’t do that with the woolly mammoth, not at that resolution. But with the Tasmanian tiger, we know exactly when it went extinct: September 7, 1936. There are something like 700 known specimens of this animal. We can sequence all of them, and know when they were collected. We can really watch the endgame of a species.”

. . .

“Understanding the genetic underpinnings of past extinction events, he and Miller argue, may be crucial for protecting other potentially threatened species, including, perhaps, even our own. ‘What makes us so sure that we cannot go extinct?’ Schuster asks. ‘We are so happily messing around, even actively contributing to a change in our environment, believing that we are untouchable. By reconstructing the biological history of the last 10,000 years—the big change that has happened since the last Ice Age—we may find a message stored in the fossil record that is very important for our future.’”

For the original Penn State release on the mammoth genome sequencing from November 2008, see Scientists Sequence Woolly-Mammoth Genome.

For more on the Mammoth Genome Project, see the aptly entitled Mammoth Genome Project. You may also be interested in exploring this fascinating Google Earth map of Mammoth Discovery Sites, or perusing the brief comment and photos on the Mammoths and Human Society page.

Mammoth Skeleton (Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

Columbian Mammoth skeleton (University of California Museum of Paleontology)

Mammoth figurine from the Swabian Jura plateau, dated approximately 35,000 years ago (Tuebingen University)

Mammoth Cave Painting (Roufignac, France)

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Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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