Rhodes Scholar and acclaimed researcher of ancient DNA Beth Shapiro discusses her research findings.
She explains why Jurassic Park couldn't work, the lack of genetic diversity in Bison and how mosquitoes can live in the arctic.
"How to make a Dodo," is part of the 2008 Chautauqua Institution's Darwin and Linnaeus: Their Impact on Our View of the Natural World.
Beth Shapiro is an assistant professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University and is a widely acclaimed researcher in the brand-new field of ancient DNA. She was recently a featured scientist in a special Smithsonian magazine section, "37 Under 36: America's Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences" for her work analyzing the DNA of the long-extinct dodo bird. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009.
Ancient DNA research analyzes the genes of extinct plants and animals, letting scientists trace the evolution and extinction of species with a precision unimaginable just five years ago. By comparing dodo DNA with the genes of five other species, for example, Dr. Shapiro's research established that the flightless bird was a distant relative of the pigeon. Her 2004 paper in Science argued that the bison decline began much earlier than suspected - about 37,000 years ago - and was thus not caused primarily by human hunters in North America.
As a Rhodes Scholar in 1999, Dr. Shapiro apprenticed with Oxford University's Alan Cooper, a pioneer in ancient DNA research, and in the six years since, she has risen to the top of the field. She would eventually replace Dr. Cooper as the head of Oxford's Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre where she stayed until her appointment at Penn State this fall.
Ancient DNA researcher Beth Shapiro discusses Sergey Zimov's Pleistocene Park in Siberia. Pleistocene Park is an experiment to reproduce the ecosystem of the last ice age and prove that humans not climate change made the Mammoth extinct. Zimov is preparing a habitat in anticipation of a succesful mammoth clone.
Restoration of a dodo (Raphus cucullatus)Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale UniversityExtinct flightless bird (Raphus cucullatus) of Mauritius, first seen by Portuguese sailors about 1507. Humans and the animals they introduced had exterminated the dodo by 1681. It weighed about 50 lbs (23 kg) and had blue-gray plumage, a big head, a 9-in. (23-cm) blackish bill with a reddish hooked tip, small useless wings, stout yellow legs, and a tuft of curly feathers high on its rear end. The Réunion solitaire (R. solitarius), also driven to extinction, may have been a white version of the dodo. Partial museum specimens and skeletons are all that remain of the dodo.
Has this woman not seen Jurassic Park? Next she'll be saying we should clone raptors... I swear, the day they start cloning raptors is the day I move to the moon to live in peace for the decade or so before the raptors figure out space travel.
While I don't agree with all Ms Shapiro stated in her lecture, I think a few of the opinions noted here are a bit over the top! I think just about anyone having spent several days alone in the middle of the Taiga or tundra to suddenly have two strange men appear at your door with rifles is liable to be upsetting, but Ms Shapiro apparently regained her composure without insult to the Dolgans, and managed to pose an interesting question with an interesting answer.... How would you feel if mammoths were to reappear in the land? This is not a question that would occur to most people, and as the Dolgans actually LIVE where the recreated 'mammoth steppe' is to be placed, it is probably an important question to ask, and one equally important for any of the places where the restoration of Pleistocene-type megafauna are proposed. Do you REALLy want lions living in your back yard? Perhaps, perhaps not.....
As for Russian helicopters, these are all quite old and pretty rickety; not really equipment you hope to trust your life to, but necessary if you hope to get the job done. Nothing racist here, just a comment on equipment reliability (and having flown on a few poorly-maintained Russian-made aircraft in the past, I know what she is talking about!).
As for the topic of 're-wilding,' I am fascinated by the progress of Sergei Zimov, and there are few other sites in Latvia and elsewhere following the same sort of program. One thing to note that Ms Shapiro is apparently unaware of, and that is while the 'mammoth steppe' might need the mammoth to exist or survive, the mammoth most assuredly does not need the 'mammoth steppe!' Mammoths remains are well known from the extreme North of Alaska all the way down to Mexico and Florida too, most of which has never been an example of 'mammoth steppe,' and much the same can be said for mammoths living in Asia and Europe as well.
Finally, a major point Ms Shapiro raised regarding ancient DNA involves species 'bottlenecks,' in which the genetic diversity of a species can be severely hampered by a 'partial extinction' event creating a lot of in-breeding problems. This is particularly the case with such species as the cheetah (which may in fact go extinct in the next 30-40 years because of this problem), the Asiatic lion, and possibly even the American bison as well. As these species DO in fact still exist (and thus can provide a complete genetic 'blueprint'), perhaps it might be worthwhile to examine ancient remains of THESE species to obtain a wider set of genes that can be implanted in the current living stocks for the purpose of increasing the robustness of the species....
This «energetic and informative talk» by Ms. Shapiro is not just exaggeration, but complete nonsense and possibly deliberate lies.
First - Mr. Zimov has not been having any bison (no matter wood, plains or European wisent) ever – all wood bison from Canada live (and live very well http://www.5-tv.ru/news/11086/ ) in the government-run reserve of Ust'-Buotama. No wood bison has ever been placed in the Zimov's «Pleistocene Park».
Second – horses in «Pleistocene Park» are feral stock of domestic Yakutian horse breed, but in no way true wild Przewalski horse. No one has ever even tried to "specially breed Przewalky horse to adapt to Siberian winters". - This last species of true wild horse is endangered enough to value ALL born foals no matter wether they are "adapted for Siberia" or not. No selective breeding has been done to this species in view of climatic adaptation, only strict phenotype of a wild horse is being maintained under the captive breeding programs, nothing more. In addition, there might be no need to "breed them specially for Siberia" at all since there is quite a frosty weather in Mongolia during winter months, way colder than anything imaginable to anybody from Western Europe or "sub-45" USA.
Third - if Ms. Shapiro has anything against this spectacular concept of reviving truly diverse pleistocene-type ecosystems that did exist not only in Africa but also in Siberia and Europe (and in America, too, for that matter), ecosystems, which are essentially MORDERN consisting of all the MODERN species (either exterminated like mammoth or surviving in refugia of Central Asia like saiga antelope, wild yak or wild camel) - let her say it directly and explain why she is against this idea of bringing natural beauty and back to northern lands.
Otherwise all her sarcastic clownery produce an odour of cheap jealousy to a great project which just happened to be run first by a lonely scientist in poor and underdeveloped country and not by some rich touristic syndicate under valuable consultations of herself.
And the last remark - possibly, it will be interesting for the "young and promissinbg rising star of American science" to know that the aboriginal tribes of North-Eastern Asia (in particular - those two Dolgan men she got so afraid of "in the middle of nowhere") are among the most peaceful ethnicals groups on Earth, way more harmless then a couple of Russians or a couple of Americans with guns met in in middle of Northern taiga.
Russian supporters of the Pleistocene Rewilding concept.
The previous poster needs a reality check. Being in an area that remote leads to an intense feeling of privacy. For comparison running into the locals would be like someone in a city finding a stranger in your kitchen. As for the comment about the Russian helicopter, it was directed towards the machine, the pilot WAS NOT mentioned. I for one would wonder about the service history of cold war era Mi8 or equivalent aircraft. The Russians are providing a fee for service, and probably not cheaply....
I'm disappointed that amongst this energetic and informative talk, she slyly implied that the Russian Dolgans invited them to lunch only for the lift on the motorboat back to their home. It is also confounding how someone of her education should assume that she had good reason to fear those two men with merely hunting rifles . I assume that if they were European hunters, she would not have been at all afraid. She seems to be conscious that her husband's comment about how a Russian helicopter and pilot would be predictably unreliable is borderline racist and clearly inappropriate after all the Russians have done for her.
She may be a specialist, but she certainly is not cultured.