Can you clone a mammoth?

October 4, 2013
Science Department Chair, Reyna Pratt, speaker Dr. Beth Shapiro, and USASEF host Lisa Matthews

According to Dr. Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary scientist and one of the top ancient DNA scientists in the world that is the question people most frequently ask her. But the answer is not so simple.

During the All School Meeting on October 3, Dr. Shapiro explained to students and faculty her work: collecting and studying the DNA of giant mammoths, mastodons, and other extinct animals. She led students through how scientists would clone a mammoth and explained the problems they would encounter along the way. The first problem encountered is that ancient DNA tends to come in lots of tiny fragments and is often degraded; making it extremely difficult to complete the sequence. Then after a number of complex steps, they would have to determine if an Asian elephant could actually carry the mammoth embryo to term.

After Dr. Shapiro explained the “how-to” of cloning a mammoth, she asked a few questions that we need to ask ourselves before going down that road: Why would we clone an animal that has been extinct for hundreds of years? What would be the purpose? Where would that giant mammoth live? What would be the environmental effects? Would this animal be an endangered species or still qualify as being extinct?

Talking through some of these questions with the audience, Dr. Shapiro emphasized that even if cloning a mammoth would be “cool” we need to think through the implications.  

Madeira students walked away from the ASM pondering such questions. Dr. Shapiro came to Madeira as part of the Nifty Fifty speaker series, a program of Science Spark, featuring some of the most inspiring role models in STEM, and is a signature program of the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

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