Paleontologist Jack Horner has a better way to resurrect dinosaurs than all that tedious mucking about with mosquitoes and blood and amber. Far easier to start with a bird and work backwards. Avian DNA already contains instructions to make tailbones, teeth, scales, and claws. In “Dinosaurs: Return to Life?”, a Discovery Channel documentary, Horner says he would start with an emu, which looks halfway like a velociraptor anyway. A chicken would do in a pinch. (Unfortunately, the show does not seem to be scheduled for rerun anytime soon.)
Has Michael Swanwick written this story yet?
[Image by Ryan Ladbrook]
There was a great segment on NPR’s Science Friday last, well, Friday. It dealt with the potential pitfalls of synthetic biology – a brand new field most recently brought into the headlines by Craig Venter’s creation of synthetic bacterial DNA. The topics ranged widely, from cheap sci-fi thriller plot of rogue scientist creates killer virus in lab, to religious throwbacks to Mary Shelley invoking man-plays-God ideas, with several in between. One of the guests was a bioengineer, the other was an anthropologist, which gave a good mix of insight into the various problems. And interesting mention was of a machine that could basically print out DNA from a stored library of DNA structures. A crude form already exists, which prompted me to think of a question that wasn’t tussled with – if we can print up DNA in the future like we print up documents now, will DNA testing go the way of photoshopped graphics, where people could be framed for crimes by printing and planting DNA evidence at crime scenes?
(image from flickr user chekabuje)
An international research team has discovered that they can obtain good DNA samples from the shafts of mammoth hair. Apparently keratin, the protein out of which hair is made, acts as a kind of plastic, preserving the DNA from contamination by marauding bacteria. The research could help scientists figure out why the mammoths went extinct at the end of the last ice age, and the technique could be applied to samples from other species that went extinct in relatively recent times, even samples that have been tucked away in museum drawers for decades. (Via National Geographic News; tip from The Walrus Said.)
Of course, what everyone really wants to know is, can we use this DNA to bring woolly mammoths back?
Short answer: maybe, but you won’t see them in Siberia’s nascent Pleistocene Park any time soon. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)
[tags]genetics, DNA, cloning, extinction[/tags]