We believed that we could resurrect extinct species, like in Jurassic Park. It will be very difficult

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There was Richard Attemborough, excited as a child with new shoes. With his little cane and his grandpa looks endearing Sam Neil and Laura Dern about ‘no expense spared’. Recovering extinct species like the dinosaurs was finally possible, at least on celluloid.

The funny thing is that this science fiction idea seemed to make sense in the real world. ”, claimed some scientists. Now a new study published in Science makes it clear that we were still excited, and that recovering extinct species is impossible, or at least very difficult to achieve.

‘Jurassic Park’ made us all dream. The 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg has become a classic of adventure and science fiction cinema, but it has also promoted our dream of recovering extinct species. Paleontologists love her, and genetic engineers saw her as an inspiration. In the movie, everything seemed like a done deal: it was enough to have DNA from those species, because the rest seemed practically solved.

The experts saw it feasible. There were scientists who claimed that “the possibility of creating a dinosaur exists right now”. We even have our real Dr. Alan Grant (the character played by Sam Neil): his name is Jack Horner and he’s been doing research in this field for years. His book—with corresponding ted talk viral in 2011—has a title that sums up its philosophy well: ‘How to build a dinosaur: extinction doesn’t have to be forever’. His project ‘Build a dinosaur’ also has a very peculiar benefactor: George Lucas, and Horner was clear about it when said that “I would be very surprised if we didn’t have them [dinosaurios] in ten years.” He has a couple left to surprise him.

And there has been palpable progress. Science fiction did not seem to be so when we saw how the team of the Spanish researcher Alberto Fernández-Arias brought us back to the búcaro —a mountain goat from the Pyrenees— in 2003. There are other patriotic achievements in this regard, such as the one that allowed the recovery of DNA from some ancient primates of the past with an amazing technique. Efforts to re-breed white rhinos have also excited the whole world, and although hope is still alive, the situation is delicate and only remain 14 fertilized embryos to answer that question.

“When we discovered CRISPR, I said to myself: "this is going to be crazy in biology" and then absolutely nothing happened »: Francis Mojica

But we want to go further and recover, for example, a mammoth. Projects to recover species that have recently become extinct or are in clear danger of doing so are combined with projects much more along the lines of Spielgerg’s film. A few months ago we learned that there is a project to recover the mammoth, a gigantic animal that became extinct around 4,000 years ago. A tusk allowed us to recover all the DNA and its genome is fully sequenced, and to help we also have another tool that has become another great hope for genetic engineers: CRISPR.

Let’s not open the champagne yet. A study recently published in the prestigious Science cools expectations. A group of scientists have tried to recover the so-called Maclear rat, a species that has been extinct for a century. Neither its apparently complete genome nor the use of CRISPR has been enough, and the researchers say this “shows how wonderfully close and, at the same time, how devastatingly far” we are from recovering extinct species.

That 5% of the genome is missing is a lot. This rat was a perfect candidate for ‘de-extinction’, the team claimed, but having a promising genome was not enough. Comparing it to that of its cousin, the Norway rat, they found that 5% of the Maclear’s rat genome was missing. There were the genes that were responsible for the characteristic round shape of his ears, but not his all-important immune system or olfactory genes.

In fact, many of the missing genes are precisely those that make each species unique. And even if they could do something, “it seems clear that it will never be a Maclear rat.” The analogy was striking: the human genome is only 1% different from that of chimpanzees.

let’s not lose hope. Andrew Pask, a biologist at the University of Melbourne, was not so disappointed. For him, another candidate for recovery is the Tasmanian wolf (not the devileye), and although they also lack 5% of the genome, he believes that these genomes correspond to repetitive regions that do not affect the appearance or behavior of the animal.

Mammoths no, woolly elephants yes. The techniques are actually improving, and George Church, a geneticist at Harvard University who is involved in a project to bring the mammoth back, is clear: “many 100% animal genomes will come faster and faster.” Of course: he has also changed his mind about recovering a mammoth, something that for him is “impossible” -and that also has implications with intellectual property-. Instead, something like a “woolly elephant” can be achieved that can withstand the cold much better. For him “the objective is not to make perfect photocopies, but selective hybrids”. Others believe that these efforts spielbergians they do not help the conservation of the current species in danger of extinction, but they harm thembut that’s another question.

There was Richard Attemborough, excited as a child with new shoes. With his little cane and his grandpa looks endearing…

There was Richard Attemborough, excited as a child with new shoes. With his little cane and his grandpa looks endearing…

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