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15Aug 2006

AP, others: In PNAS, of mice, mammoths, frozen sperm and the limits of extinction

Charlie Petit
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A Japanese research team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week that sperm from mice frozen whole for 15 years maintained their ability to fertilize mouse eggs and produce healthy offspring. The AP's Randolph E. Schmid reports that the scientists say odds for reviving some extinct species such as mammoths, some of which have been frozen since they died, have gotten better. How much better, nobody knows. One other outside source he consulted says it's fairly possible; another says chances remain near zero.

A big question is what one would do with the sperm even if it were viable. Most likely, it appears, would be to attempt a hybrid with a surviving relative, such as an Indian elephant and a mammoth. Ditto for ice-age bison and American buffalo. Maybe, The Tracker thinks, there are ice age mice frozen up north. They'd be a good place to start.

This brings to mind the great hoo-ha a few years ago when a Russian team, with a Discovery Channel film crew on hand, hauled a frozen mammoth from under Siberian tundra with a helicopter and said it was going to try the same sort of revival. There hasn't been much news from that front lately. The station's online Discovery News covers the new report, too. The outlandish pic is the one Pravda used in its story, an apparent rewrite of AP.

Stories:

AP Randolph E. Schmid; Discovery News Jennifer Viegas; New Scientist Roxanne Khamsi; Times (UK) Mark Henderson; Nature Heidi Ledford; Reuters Tan Ee Lyn;

Grist for the Mill: PNAS says when its article is published, it will be online here.

Comments

Wonder why they suggested using modern elephant eggs with the ancient sperm? Surely at least half the mammoth fossils are females with frozen eggs. Then all you'd need is a modern elephant cow's uterus.

Not that old eggs are any more likely to retain undamaged DNA.

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