De-extinction involves bringing extinct species back to life, a topic so spicy it got an entire movie franchise as a wealthy entrepreneur sought to create a dinosaur island in the much-loved Jurassic Park. The idea of de-extinction has been toyed with throughout history, with species such as the woolly mammoth and thylacine both being floated for the treatment.
Now it seems the dodo would be a contender as scientists have successfully sequenced the bird’s entire genome. Not quite a dinosaur, but an ave would be a step in the right direction.
The achievement comes from a team at the University of California, where professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Beth Shapiro and colleagues have been working to try and map the dodo’s genome for some time. Previous attempts using a specimen from Oxford, UK, were unsuccessful but a “fantastic specimen” from Denmark gifted them some sufficiently well-preserved DNA.
The dodo in question belongs to the Natural History Museum of Copenhagen, and gave rise to a “high-quality, high-coverage, dodo genome which will soon be published,” Shapiro said, the NZ Herald reports.
Potentially exciting news for fans of birds which really put the orb in borb, then, as when it comes to plump, plumed things the dodo was a doozy. Just short of 1 meter (3 feet), dodos were big-bootied birds with a comically curved beak and slightly elongated neck.
The name dodo comes from the Portuguese for “fool” which was a reference to their unfortunate fearlessness in the face of human hunters.
But enough background, it’s time for the ultimate question…
Can we bring back the dodo?
Unfortunately, even armed with a full genome it would be very difficult to bring back the dodo owing to the fact that it was a bird.
"If I have a cell and it's living in a dish in the lab and I edit it so that it has a bit of dodo DNA how do I then transform that cell into a whole living breathing actual animal?” Shapiro said.
“The way we can do this is to clone it, the same approach that was used to create 'Dolly the Sheep', but we don't know how to do that with birds because of the intricacies of their reproductive pathways.”
According to Shapiro, the wild ride that is avian reproduction represents a “really fundamental technological hurdle in de-extinction,” but one that many scientists are working to leap over. It’s her opinion that the achievement is in reach, but we’ve a way to go before booking tickets to Middle-to-Late-Triassic Park.