Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Museomics" May Make Mammoths

For the first time, the "complete" genome of an extinct species has been generated. This week, the wooly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, had its DNA decoded by a team of researchers, with the results published in Nature. "Complete" was in quotes back there because without a modern species, like the African elephant's genome to compare it to, generated from intact chromosomes, the team can't be totally sure that they have the whole thing. Nonetheless, it's very exciting that a combination of some hair from the long-dead beast and next-generation sequencing technologies (oh, and $10 million) may one day allow a mammoth to walk the Earth again. It's also created the next in line of "-omics" - "Museomics" where natural history specimens, ancient DNA technology and pyrosequencing combine.


Dan Warren said...

Awesome. Now bring back the passenger pigeon!

Susan Perkins said...

I want a quagga.

Dan Warren said...

Hey while I'm thinking of passenger pigeons, check this out:

Perhaps the most remarkable
instance of an immense bird population is that of the passenger pigeon of the United
States, which lays only one, or at most two eggs, and is said to rear generally but one
young one. Why is this bird so extraordinarily abundant, while others producing two or
three times as many young are much less plentiful?

That's from Darwin & Wallace 1858. Passenger pigeons were cited as the best example of a hyperabundant species. The last passenger pigeon in the world died in a zoo only 55 years later.

I'm not trying to make any specific point with this, just ruining your day with a fascinating fact.

sergios-orestis kolokotronis said...

Cool, indeed!

Let's see what the other mammoth metagenomics study will show when it's done.

As for "completeness", it's not there yet. Being an elephant DNA aficionado and all, I've been BLASTing the Nature genome sequence getting at best 200nt hits, even with mtDNA. Eventually some holes will be covered.

As for resurrection, it's a Japanese midsummmer night's dream.

Glor said...

I hate to be a pill, but I find this whole mammoth resurrection story a bit ridiculous. The original Nature article and associated perspective are quite interesting, and scientifically reasonable. Then Nicholas Wade emphasized the far-out implications of this work in his New York Time piece (with support from the authors) and everyone started debating whether we should be remaking mammoths. Let's be clear, we are getting way, way ahead of ourselves here. We can't even effectively clone from fresh tissue of extant organisms. Even if we overcome this hurdle, we're still a long way from 'remaking' a species. We'll soon have dozens of complete Drosophila genomes, but nobody has even come close to making a fly from the strings of Gs, As, Ts, and Cs spit out from a 454 sequencer.

I wish the Times would recognize that there are much more pressing issues in bioethics than resurrecting the mammoth .

Glor said...

PS - My brother did a story about this for CBS news . "For the first time it is not entirely impossible..." - now that's a serious endorsement.