Agilent and the Return of the Woolly Mammoth

Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel Jurassic Park used ancient dinosaur DNA to create new specimens.  While bringing dinosaurs back is not likely in the real world (dino DNA is too degraded to work with), scientists are actively researching the possibilities of “de-extinction.”

One possible candidate is the passenger pigeon.  This species was once the most abundant bird in the world, numbering 5 billion in the United States and Canada.  On September 1, 1914, the last surviving female died at the Cincinnati Zoo and the species became extinct.  But some 1,500 fully preserved passenger pigeons exist in museums around the world, along with their extractable DNA.

Another exciting candidate is the woolly mammoth, whose demise I covered in a recent blog post.  A fully preserved specimen has been found in the permafrost of Russian Siberia, and scientists hope to decipher the mammoth’s complete DNA structure by 2017.

We are closer to de-extinction that you may think.  In 2003, DNA from the last surviving bucardo (a subspecies of the ibex) was used to create new embryos that were implanted into goats.  A new bucardo was successfully brought to term, but only survived for seven minutes after birth.  In addition, the researchers used living cell tissues obtained from the last specimen before her death.

Scientists are using Agilent technologies and solutions to expand their capabilities with nonliving tissues.  German researchers have used an Agilent Bioanalyzer system, TapeStation and microarrays to recover and enrich ancient and degraded mitochondrial DNA fragments.  Italian researchers have used Agilent SureSelect and microarrays to recover DNA from archaeological and paleontological remains.

Scientists currently estimate that de-extinction could be accomplished within the next 50 years.  Someday, our descendants may see herds of woolly mammoths once more roaming the Siberian plains.


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