Genetic Analysis Gives Hope That Extinct Tortoise Species May Live Again

Genetic Analysis Gives Hope That Extinct Tortoise Species May Live Again
A tortoise in captivity on Galapagos Islands is a genetic relative of extinct species.

( -- Thanks to genetic data gleaned from the bones found in a several museum collections, an international team of researchers led by scientists from Yale believes it may be possible to resurrect a tortoise species hunted to extinction by whalers visiting the Galapagos Islands during the early 19th century, before Charles Darwin made his famous visit.

A genetic analysis of 156 tortoises living in captivity and the DNA taken from remains of specimens of the now-extinct Chelonoidis elephantopus revealed that nine are descendents of the vanished species, which once made its home on Floreana Island in the Galapagos. Over a few generations, a selective breeding program among these tortoises should be able to revive the C. elephantopus species, said Adalgisa Caccone, senior research scientist in the department of ecology and at Yale and senior author of the piece published this week in the online journal PLoS ONE.

“Theoretically, we can rescue a species that has gone extinct,’’ Caccone said. “Our lab calls it the Lazurus project.”

In 2007, Caccone and others discovered genetic relatives to “Lonesome George” the last known survivor of another species of Galapagos tortoise and an icon of the conservation movement. The team believes that the similar genetic hybrids living in captivity on the Galapagos were descendents of tortoises that were taken by whalers as future meals but then thrown overboard to make room for the more lucrative cargo of whale blubber. These tortoises then swam to nearby islands and mated with natives there. Floreana’s flat topography made it a popular spot for whalers to stop and snatch tortoises for meals, leading to the extinction of C. elephantopus.

The comparison of from remains in museums to data banks with of living tortoises made it possible to identify relatives of , Caccone said. However, it will take at least four generations of - about 100 years - to bring a genetically identical member of C. elephantopus “back to life.”

“We won’t be around to see it, but it can be done,” she said.

Other Yale authors of the paper are Edgar Benavides and Jeffrey R. Powell. Researchers from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, University of Crete, State University New York Syracuse and the Galapagos National Park Service contributed to the research.

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Citation: Genetic Analysis Gives Hope That Extinct Tortoise Species May Live Again (2010, January 18) retrieved 21 October 2019 from
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Jan 18, 2010
why would you do this.?? Gather the genetic material yes.. try to fully sequence it ... sure.. But to bring back a dead species for no other reason than that it did not survive.. it was hunted to death by man or otherwise is silly. Species die.. they come and go... juts because we miss the garden of our youth and the bird and toys we used to play with does not mean as we become more mature and more sophisticated adults ( as science comes of age if you are missing the metaphor ) this does not mean we should recreate the garden we miss from nostalgia. There is nothing to turely gained here. Yes do it for science -- recreate the animal and put it in a zoo so it can be miserable.. but DO NOT release it into the wild... its been gone for too long and the world has adapted putting it back into nature is irresponsible and childish.

Jan 19, 2010
It's only been a couple hundred years since their extinction. Species that went extinct in recorded history would still have a niche in their native range if it was more or less ecologically intact.

Why do this? Because we recognize our impact on biodiversity. Conserving nature may be a somewhat selfish goal, but it could be a long-run method for our own survival. We're just as much a part of and influence on nature as extinction after all.

Jan 19, 2010
Species go extinct for a reason... Its called survival of the fittest... Not meaning only the most fit survive, but if you or your species are not fit enough to survive, then you go extinct.

Edit: It looks like from what is said the species doesn't need help. It survived by mating with other species. Try it for science yes, but to resurrect a species that wasn't fit enough to survive on its own no

Jan 19, 2010
@paradigm -- do we bring back the dodo bird because we might be able to? Or the Caspian Tiger, the passenger pigeon? the Baiji River Dolphin? where does it stop at what point are we merely trying to keep a genetic line alive. In effect stopping evolution.

If conditions of a area change the need to apadt ensures that whatever is best at it has the best chance of surviving and spreading its genetic code to its offspring. Giraffes have long necks for a reason ... a long time ago the short necked giraffes died out. By simply bring back species even if man was the cause of the extinction does nothing for those that survived and proved to be capable of changing ever so slightly and find other food and whatever died out stopped eating something that became plentiful and probably feeds something else now... throwing a creature back into a food web thats been patched is the work of a stubborn child.

Jan 20, 2010
Conserving nature may be a somewhat selfish goal, but it could be a long-run method for our own survival.

Are you sure? I'd suggest that a modern man placed naked (i.e. without any support) into the wild has little chance to survive. Therefore, no, mankind doesn't have any rationale to conserve nature; conserving the nature is purely emotional.

This is the "gutter" section of physorg, of course. Bringing back a forgotten specie may be interesting to some, but hardly hold any promise to redefine the world as we know it. I salute you "protein folding" and "quantum computing" folks.

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