What if Noah’s ark were really a vault of cells taken from the world’s wildlife? We could preserve endangered animals for centuries and save them from extinction by bringing them back to life if they died off. Although it sounds like the beginning of a Jurassic Park-type sci-fi thriller, there is some scientific truth to this query.
Twenty years ago, a group of scientists, led by Ian Wilmut at the Roslin Institute, made history by cloning a sheep they called Dolly. “Dolly is described as the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. She’s actually the first adult clone, period. She’s often undersold,” boasts Wilmut.
What modern science hasn’t figured out yet is how to clone extinct animals. As Scientific American explains, “Clones…are created by taking an adult cell and fusing it to a recipient egg cell. Making a clone requires an intact nucleus, which would not be available for most extinct species.”
Scientists at the University of Melbourne successfully injected a bone growth gene from the Tasmanian Tiger, which has been extinct for nearly 80 years, into a Tasmanian Devil. Although this is an amazing feat, one of the scientists working on the project, Dr Svenmaker, says we are years away from “being able to reproduce a living species of the extinct animal.” Similar work has been done on the woolly mammoth.
Another option would be to preserve the sperm and eggs of endangered animals to mitigate the risk of extinction. However, this process would require growing an embryo of the extinct animal inside a different species, which is also beyond modern technology at the moment.
Although there are limitations that restrict us from reviving wildlife from the dead, as Robert Lanza, medical director at Advanced Cell Technology says, “This area of genetics is moving forward at an exponential rate.”
So, if you have any black rhino cells or other extinct animal specimens lying around the house, it’s worth holding onto them.