I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro
Published by Princeton University Press on April 5th 2015
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Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. In How to Clone a Mammoth, Beth Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in "ancient DNA" research, walks readers through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction. From deciding which species should be restored, to sequencing their genomes, to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild, Shapiro vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used--today--to resurrect the past. Journeying to far-flung Siberian locales in search of ice age bones and delving into her own research--as well as those of fellow experts such as Svante Pääbo, George Church, and Craig Venter--Shapiro considers de-extinction's practical benefits and ethical challenges. Would de-extinction change the way we live? Is this really cloning? What are the costs and risks? And what is the ultimate goal? Using DNA collected from remains as a genetic blueprint, scientists aim to engineer extinct traits--traits that evolved by natural selection over thousands of years--into living organisms. But rather than viewing de-extinction as a way to restore one particular species, Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. For example, elephants with genes modified to express mammoth traits could expand into the Arctic, re-establishing lost productivity to the tundra ecosystem. Looking at the very real and compelling science behind an idea once seen as science fiction, How to Clone a Mammoth demonstrates how de-extinction will redefine conservation's future.
I want to start noting that I generally dislike the maltreatment of animals and cruelty enacted in laboratories, so this could not be an unbiased review.
How to Clone a Mammoth is about cloning and the various problems concerned with the technologies used to clone cells. Shapiro explains these problems in the most base way, only touching on much of the scientific jargon that would confuse the average reader. She also explains that cloning would not return a perfect specimen from the Ice Age as popular belief has led us to imagine. Instead, the creatures developed from cloning would be mammoth-like. These species would act to revive ecosystems by filling in the gaps where interactions between species has gone dormant due to the extinction of one or more animal.
Unfortunately, while the conservation of failing ecosystems is a valiant effort, Shapiro goes further by stating that we shouldn’t restrict this technology to de-extintion. In fact. she offers cloning technologies as a method to alter endangered species who lack diversity or cannot adapt to climate change quickly enough. The desire to play with the biology of struggling species is a cold, analytical leap in Shapiro’s logic. It describes the chilling future of this technologies and the lack of morality found in those wielding it.
On top of the desire to alter live species, Shapiro theorizes that if new species are created to fill ecological niches there may come a day when our creations may do more damage than good to the ecosystem we are trying to maintain. The shocking conclusion is that we should eradicate the species if it starts to harm the ecosystem only further destroyed Shapiro’s work. The death of living creatures should never be something brazenly thrown around. Although Shapiro highlights that there would have to be careful consideration this matter, and perhaps even a council should be drawn up to purpose such mass slaughters.
Shapiro covers back breeding as one method for bringing back the mammoth and outlines the struggle for recreating the auroch, they are creating new technologies to slip “scissors” into a nucleus to snip out the genetic code they don’t want, and plan to use “glue” to paste the new genetic code geneticists have created to make sure the new genetic code is fused. The techniques covered in this book are both cutting edge and leading back to the selective breeding practices to rebirth various animals: the Dodo, the auroch and Passenger Pigeon.
I also learned how an egg is made inside a chicken, chickens cannot be cloned, ancient DNA is much trickier than we can imagine, and Asian Elephants just might be the closest relative to the mammoth.
Although I abhor Shapiro’s ethical arguments I enjoyed her work. How to Clone a Mammoth was extremely educational for the average reader over a broad range of topics and it attempts to conquer very delicate moral issues. Although sometimes repetitive with ideas, this book is well worth a look for people who know very little about cloning and biology.