How to Clone a Mammoth - Or Not?

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction - Beth J. Shapiro

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction is a book that explains the science behind the de-extinction process and the methodology behind cloning extinct organisms. This is the only book that I have managed to find so far that covers the science of the process and doesn't just discuss all the ethical aspects of this technology. The author attempt to The author briefly mentions the ethics, economics, uses and socio-political aspects of de-extinction technology, but this is covered in more detail in the excellent book Resurrection Science by M.R. O'Connor. Resurrection Science and How to Clone a Mammoth compliment each other nicely, and cover the subject in detail up to this point in time.

 

In this book, Shapiro discusses the purpose of de-extinction and the controversy surrounding this new technology. She also discusses the factors involved in selecting a suitable species for de-extinction; how to find a well preserved specimen so that useful ancient DNA can be obtained, why amber is not a good source of ancient DNA; genome recreation and modification; how to create a clone and the challenges that are encountered with this process; making more of the cloned species; setting the de-extinct population free; and finally, if we should do such a thing.

 

The book explains the science very well - providing enough details so the reader knows what is going on, but not providing so many minutiae that the reader becomes lost. The author, however, tends to repeat information but the repetitiveness wasn't too annoying. Shapiro is involved with mammoth and dodo de-extinction research, so this book tends to focus on these creatures. However, exciting research and anecdotes from other scientists is also included.

 

I believe the author has nicely explained her aim in writing this book, namely to provide a road map for de-extinction, beginning with how to decide what species/trait to resurrect, traveling through the circuitous and often confusing path from DNA sequence to living organism, and ending with a discussion about how to manage populations of engineered individuals once they are released into the wild. Shapiro's goal was to explain de-extinction in a way that separates the science form the science-fiction. The author also states that she believes in many cases, de-extinction is scientifically and ethically unjustified. But, she also believes that de-extinction technology has great potential to become an important tool for conserving species and habitats that are currently threatened.

 

I found this book enjoyable to read and managed to learn a few things in the process. The author also leaves the reader with something to think about.