Bringing Back the Dead: How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro

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Cover for How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth ShapiroHow to Clone a Mammoth is a chance to learn about de-extinction from someone who knows what she is talking about. Beth Shapiro is associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She works in ancient DNA research and has presented and attended conferences on de-extinction, so she has first-hand knowledge of how DNA degrades, what steps can be taken to reconstruct DNA, and how and why anyone might want to bring back extinct species.

Shapiro shares the excitement over the possibility of bringing back extinct species. She also has a clear picture of what will be involved in bringing them back. How to Clone a Mammoth covers a wide range of questions about de-extinction including what is possible now, what ethical and ecological concerns might motivate or prevent the return of ancient species, and what regulations might apply to the returned creatures. She provides a step-by-step explanation of the processes that might be involved in bringing a creature back from extinction, emphasizing that we will most likely never be able to provide an exact clone before asking how much complete genetic duplication would matter. She also looks at the possible hurdles involved in re-wilding a remade animal as well as the environmental benefits reintroducing a creature might have. There are further questions, such as “Who would decide what gets returned?” and “Where would we put any creature resulting from de-extinction?”

Shapiro is careful to explain all the ins and outs of the process and to emphasize that, ideally, de-extinction would be used to benefit the environment; the goal would not be to recreate the mammoth simply for the sake of having a mammoth but to fill an environmental niche left empty when the mammoths died out. To this end, she points to instances where the reintroduction of animals has benefitted the entire ecology of a location. Reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone, for example, has led to a greater diversity in both plants and animals.

How to Clone a Mammoth is not a light or quick read. It is a clearly-written, in-depth exploration of the concept and possibilities of de-extinction and an on-the-ground look at programs already in progress. It is recommended reading for anyone who has more than a casual interest in cloning and/or genetically altering animal and plant life.

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro comes out May 6 2015.

Pairs well with:
Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes by Sue Hubbell

Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts by Emily Anthes

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