Group suggests adding tag to resurrected extinct animal names

June 9, 2017 by Bob Yirka report
The Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). Credit: Wikipedia.

(Phys.org)—A group of scientists from several institutions in Germany has suggested that extinct animals that are resurrected through scientific means be given a tag on their name to indicate their origins. In a Policy Forum piece in the journal Science, the group suggests adding the tag "recr" to scientific names given to resurrected creatures to make sure they are not confused with the original.

As technology improves, scientists often find themselves faced with addressing overlooked classification issues—scientific naming is no exception. As researchers develop new methods of bringing back extinct or improving old techniques, the resultant organisms are very nearly copies of their extinct ancestors. Currently, there are three main resurrection methods. The first is back breeding, in which a species is bred over time to resemble a bygone species. Another is cloning, in which ancient reproductive material is placed in the uterus of a living close relative. Finally, there is genomic engineering, in which information that is missing from samples of a target species is filled in using DNA from a close modern relative. None of the techniques result in creation of a creature that is an exact copy of the original species, and that is at least partly why the authors suggest adding a tag to their names.

The authors give examples of how the new tag could be used, changing Mammuthus columbi to Mammuthus recr. columbi, for example. In some cases, if the new species is not a close copy of the original, the group suggests that a name be given, such as Mammuthus recr. Americanus.

The idea of changing the name of resurrected species is not new. The International Union for Conservation of Nature published guidelines three years ago offering possible ways to classify resurrected species. The authors with the new effort suggest a more standardized format. They suggest that not only will it make things less confusing for scientists, it will help environmentalists develop specific guidelines for preventing the species from going extinct again.

If the international community agrees with the suggestion and governing bodies move forward with the idea, there are still likely to be some issues that will be difficult to resolve. For instance, researchers want to determine how much extinct DNA in a living animal's genome qualifies for tagging. Also, some may not agree with the tag chosen because, as some in the field have already pointed out, current resurrections are not actually copies of ancient species—they are hybrids.

Explore further: A mammoth task—how do we decide which species to resurrect?

More information: De-extinction, nomenclature, and the law Science  09 Jun 2017: Vol. 356, Issue 6342, pp. 1016-1017 DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4012 , http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6342/1016

Summary
The concept of de-extinction, aimed at restoration of extinct species, is controversial (1). Improvements in de-extinction techniques (back-breeding, cloning, and genomic engineering) now provide the opportunity to attempt to resurrect extinct species (2, 3). Up to 25 extinct animal species have been proposed as candidates for de-extinction (4) on the basis of their high public profiles, availability of well-preserved DNA, existence of closely related species who may serve as host or surrogate parents, and availability of suitable habitat in the case of planned reintroductions (1). From a legal point of view, it will be crucial to clarify how de-extinct species will be classified, in particular, in relation to their potential conservation status under national and international law. We discuss implications for conservation laws, which largely depend on nomenclature, and laws regarding the release of genetically engineered species, which do not, and argue for unique naming of de-extinct species.

Related Stories

A mammoth task—how do we decide which species to resurrect?

May 9, 2017

The resurrection of vanished species - through cutting-edge technologies such as gene-editing - should be targeted towards recently extinct species rather than ancient ones, according to a leading University of Otago conservation ...

Deciding whether to bring back extinct species

May 19, 2017

De-extinction – the science of reviving species that have been lost – has moved from the realm of science-fiction to something that is now nearly feasible. Some types of lost mammals, birds or frogs may soon be able to ...

What can extinct species do to help conservation?

May 18, 2016

The dodo, the passenger pigeon and the Tasmanian tiger are well-known victims of extinction caused by human behaviour, but could their status be used to help conservation efforts from beyond the grave?

3Qs: The ethics of species 'de-extinction'

March 25, 2013

Scientists are closing in on the capacity to clone extinct species using biotechnology and DNA samples from the ancient past, a process that is called "de-extinction." The prospect of bringing back extinct species was discussed ...

Recommended for you

Re-cloning of first cloned dog deemed successful thus far

November 22, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with Seoul National University, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has re-cloned the first dog to be cloned. In their paper published in the journal ...

Testing the advantage of being left-handed in sports

November 22, 2017

(Phys.org)—Sports scientist Florian Loffing with the Institute of Sport Science, University of Oldenburg in Germany has conducted a study regarding the possibility of left-handed athletes having an advantage over their ...

16 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (4) Jun 09, 2017
We need to resurrect as many species as we possibly can. We need to learn as much as possible from life and this includes the life that is no longer with us.

We study their remains and speculate on their behavior. So much the better if we can study the animals themselves. Imagine not bringing back that one species that could reveal a cure for cancer or aging.

Plus we WANT to. That is reason enough.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2017
We need to resurrect as many species as we possibly can
whereas i agree with this on the face of it because it fascinates me, i would also urge caution as this may well increase risks from any number of sources, from zoonoses to environmentally invasive oopsies (like in AUS)

so long as we can isolate the species without exposure to the ecosystem, we should definitely consider this
nrauhauser
1 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2017
I'm not sure what value this has beyond curiosity. The mostly likely animals we might 'recr' all seem to be preserved in permafrost. We aren't going into a new period of glaciation, we're ending our current ice age and heading for CO2 concentrations the Earth hasn't seen in 55 million years.

Time ran out for mammoths 4,000 years ago. I question the ethics of bringing back a single member of a species that lived in herds.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2017
lived in herds
- So we bring back herds. Viable breeding populations. They can live in places like this
https://en.wikipe...ene_Park

As far as entire ecosystems are concerned, what wild animals today get to live in the ecosystems they evolved in? We've eliminated the predators, introduced invasive food plants, carved up their territories with highways, fences, power lines.

Most of the world is already managed like a park or needs to be. Invasive species are totally out of control. Bringing back animals that used to live here might actually help us to manage things.

And I'm not talking about carrier pigeons which would be silly.

Look I just want to see terror birds and glyptodonts and those giant elephants and Paraceratherium. Is that so wrong?

And mosasaurs.

We will of course need to get overpopulation under control before we can do this to a meaningful extent.

We extincted mammoths and cave bears. Their time had not 'run out'.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Jun 10, 2017
I'm not sure what value this has beyond curiosity
@nrauhauser
1- develop a working viable process

2- the science requires a fairly intimate knowledge of DNA and how life works, which means we either know it first or we learn considerably as we go (yes, this can backfire too, but what's life without risk?)

3- testing on humans is likely frowned upon, but we can learn a lot about how to develop a "better" human (specifically: adaptation to different environs, be it space & microgravity or other worlds)

4- viable food sources (if we learn how to resurrect the mammoth, we can then insure our own domesticated food doesn't die out due to various disease; or we can modify said beasties for other worlds, etc)

i can think of quite a bit more ... but you get the point, I'm sure

.

.

.

We will of course need to get overpopulation under control before we can do this to a meaningful extent.
@otto
that's for damn sure
dfjohnsonphd
1 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2017
The cloning of extinct species is so unlikely as to be considered nil. The DNA from specimens found in permafrost, and even more absurdly, from fossils, is so highly degraded (or absent in the latter) that it would not be worth the cost in time or currency for even a cursory review by experts in biochemistry, assuming you could find enough of them willing to discuss the possibilities. One of the latest notions, that we attempt to clone animals found in permafrost, does not take into account that the remains have been thawed and refrozen numerous times over the period(s) they were buried. These cycles of thawing and re-freezing would have a very negative impact on the integrity of the cells and the biopolymers required for cloning these animals, and also allows for microbial growth to occur during the warmer periods, which would further degrade the essential component for cloning, namely intact cellular nuclei. This stuff is only gonna happen in the movies, so go pop some corn........
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2017
that it would not be worth the cost in time or currency for even a cursory review by experts in biochemistry, assuming you could find enough of them willing to discuss the possibilities
-These guys appear to be experts in biochemistry...

"A group of Harvard researchers have announced that they are close to resurrecting the woolly mammoth. The researchers believe they are less than two years away from creating a functioning embryo, although creating a fully-grown mammoth would take much longer."

- Are you sure you are an expert of experts in biochemistry?

Hey what does PhD spell?
dfjohnsonphd
1 / 5 (4) Jun 11, 2017
Many scientists (usually Ph.D.s - i.e. Doctorates) hype up projects to gain funding from unsuspecting people who want to believe. When they later fail at the attempt, "at least we tried" is a common escape. Cloning an animal requires a viable cellular nucleus, and they are extremely complex assemblies of DNA, RNA, proteins, membranes and metabolites. Almost all of these specimens require very special freezing techniques for cloning (when not used immediately), one where the temperature ramp is just the right speed. Too fast and you get fractures within the cell, destroying many complex structures that render the cell (or zygote) defective. Thawing is the same, a controlled ramp up. Long term storage is typically done in liquid nitrogen. At -346 F, this provides a very, very cold storage for maximum viability when thawed. It is a certainty that this does not happen in dead and frozen animals on the tundras of the world. Expert of experts is not my call. Popcorn ready?!
zz5555
5 / 5 (3) Jun 11, 2017
The cloning of extinct species is so unlikely as to be considered nil. The DNA from specimens found in permafrost, and even more absurdly, from fossils, is so highly degraded (or absent in the latter) that it would not be worth the cost in time or currency for even a cursory review by experts in biochemistry, assuming you could find enough of them willing to discuss the possibilities.

Why would you limit the choices to ancient animals? There are plenty of recently extinct animals with specimens in museums, like the passenger pigeon. I was also under the impression that for more recent animals, some DNA samples were taken for the express purpose of bringing them back: https://en.m.wiki...ozen_zoo
dfjohnsonphd
1 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2017
It is the nuclei of these extinct animals that must remain completely intact, and they are extremely labile - prone to degradation. Microscopically they may look intact, but at the molecular level they would be a mess. They use liquid nitrogen to store sperm, eggs and zygotes for a good reason - so they don't go sour. A stuffed passenger pigeon is well over 100 years old, and is simply not a candidate for cloning. People might try, but failure is almost certain. Don't shoot the messenger please.
dfjohnsonphd
1 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2017
Just to be sure, you cannot take chunks of DNA from some extinct animal and throw it into a test tube and hope to recover the animal. Living organisms are by far the most complex organizations of matter in the universe. There are thousands of things going on in many cells, all at the same time, which are required for viability. Attempting to put all that back together from fragments of the life form, all functional at the instant of reconstruction, is clearly impossible. One really needs to appreciate the complexity of a living cell to understand why this is doomed to failure. Sorry for the bad news. Despite the disappointments, as it goes in science, it is always better to be right than wrong. Cross breeding animals is another story. Anyone up for breeding chimps and humans? It may be possible! And what would we call the species if it worked?
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2017
Many scientists (usually Ph.D.s - i.e. Doctorates) hype up projects to gain funding from unsuspecting people who want to believe. When they later fail at the attempt, "at least we tried" is a common escape
@dfjohnsonphd
horsesh*t

for starters, this is pretty much fundamental research: it's a no lose situation
regardless of failure or success, we will learn far more about DNA, medicine, organisms and more in general than sitting around with our thuumbs up our arses

for two: medicine isn't about hype. you can make the argument about pharmacology, but not medicine in general

the more these tests reveal, the more we learn, the more we find out and need to know about

life is a complex sexually transmitted disease where no one gets out alive
learning anything we can is important
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2017
Anyone up for breeding chimps and humans? It may be possible! And what would we call the species if it worked?
sorry... that's already been done
they're called Kamburoff's
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2017
Just to be sure, you cannot take chunks of DNA from some extinct animal and throw it into a test tube and hope to recover the animal
I honestly believe that this isnt how it is done. But I am not a phud and so wouldnt know for sure.

But then you are a phuD and so I should believe what you say. I believe this phud
https://www.youtu...ZidONziI

-when he says that talking ducks and wabbits should be hunted down because they are obviously products of test tube machinations as well.
zz5555
5 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2017
A stuffed passenger pigeon is well over 100 years old, and is simply not a candidate for cloning.

I think I read (in a recent article about how we can't clone dinosaurs) that DNA has a half-life of ~500 years. I would expect that the feathers could provide some DNA (but I don't know that for sure).
Attempting to put all that back together from fragments of the life form, all functional at the instant of reconstruction, is clearly impossible.

Then perhaps they should stop doing that. They've already cloned a mouse, frozen for 16 years, and a bull, frozen for 10 years (https://www.ncbi....2613553/ ). That's why I mentioned something like the Frozen Zoo. Currently, they only have tissue from 1 extinct animal right now (and cloning isn't their purpose), but as we make other animals extinct, this could be useful.

The possibilities are interesting: https://www.scien...animals/
dfjohnsonphd
1 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2017
"Then perhaps they should stop doing that."

The voice of reason! Clearly DNA by itself has some stability, which is why old evidence from crimes can still convict the perp. But the half-life issue does not relate to bringing back a species. Everybody thinks all you need is DNA. To say it is vastly more complex than that is itself a vast understatement. You could get lots of DNA from old stuffed animals, but it would be highly degraded both covalently and 3-Dwise. In short, worthless for Lazarus or anything else.

I have no doubt they can clone frozen animals, but there is a catch. Properly frozen and then thawed. None of this happens in nature. A frozen zoo is a great idea. Reversing environmental degradation is preferred, but the frozen zoo gets back a lot of what was lost if it is done properly. Genetic variation within a species is critical for long term survival, so lots of samples would have to be frozen. Let's get those zoos going and forget the sci-fi stuff.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.