Posts Tagged ‘genetic rescue’

If Science Could ‘Clone A Mammoth,’ Could It Save An Elephant?

Until we figure out how to meet the physical and psychological needs of elephants in captivity, they shouldn’t be in captivity at all, much less being used to make mammoths. If we were to put that all aside, I don’t want to see mammoths come back — it’s never going to be possible to create a species that is 100 percent identical. But what if we could use this technology not to bring back mammoths but to save elephants?

What if we could use this technology to make elephants slightly better adapted to cooler climates, the type of place that mammoths used to live? We could then create more space for them. … Mammoths and elephants have approximately 99 percent identical genomes. If we are talking about changing a few genes here and there to make them better adapted to living in the cold, I think we are talking about preserving elephants.

I think that the key use of this technology … is to protect species and populations that are alive today. Take, for example, the black-footed ferrets that are living across the plains of North America. Black footed ferrets nearly went extinct a couple decades ago because of extermination programs. Today, black-footed ferrets are threatened by a disease. What if we could use this same technology that we’re talking about to go back in time, to sequence DNA of ferrets in museums somewhere that are decades or centuries or even thousands of years old, and find genetic diversity in those that we could then inject in the populations today that have no genetic diversity?

Maybe we could use this technology to give those populations a little bit of a genetic booster shot and maybe a fighting a chance against the diseases that are killing them. We’re facing a crisis — a conservation, biodiversity crisis. This technology might be a very powerful new weapon in our arsenal against what’s going on today. I don’t think we should dismiss it out of fear.



Medical science is rapidly progressing. Currently, DNA is used to identify predispositions to disease including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autism and many others. It has also discovered that DNA changes in response to daily exposure to pollution, chemicals, smoke, the sun and even stress. Soon, DNA taken from earlier in life may be used therapeutically to treat or prevent disease later in life.

With the Family Vault, the DNA samples can be valuable for discovering specific diseases passed along genetically. The lack of an ancestor’s DNA sample can make the process of identifying a condition difficult or impossible, plus some genetically influenced conditions skip generations. Be prepared for future generations with a complete family history.

Consider getting one Family DNA Vault per person so you can capture DNA over each member’s lifetime. For example, save a tiny drop of blood at birth, one at 12 years old, another at 25 and 50. When they have a family, they can add others to it.


A coalition of geneticists and computer programmers calling itself the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health is developing protocols for exchanging DNA information across the Internet. The researchers hope their work could be as important to medical science as HTTP, the protocol created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, was to the Web.

One of the group’s first demonstration projects is a simple search engine that combs through the DNA letters of thousands of human genomes stored at nine locations, including Google’s server farms and the University of Leicester, in the U.K. According to the group, which includes key players in the Human Genome Project, the search engine is the start of a kind of Internet of DNA that may eventually link millions of genomes together.

The technologies being developed are application program interfaces, or APIs, that let different gene databases communicate. Pooling information could speed discoveries about what genes do and help doctors diagnose rare birth defects by matching children with suspected gene mutations to others who are known to have them.

The researchers felt they had to act because the falling cost of decoding a genome—then about $10,000, and now already closer to $2,000—was producing a flood of data they were not prepared for. They feared ending up like U.S. hospitals, with electronic systems that are mostly balkanized and unable to communicate.

The way genomic data is siloed is becoming a problem because geneticists need access to ever larger populations. They use DNA information from as many as 100,000 volunteers to search for genes related to schizophrenia, diabetes, and other common disease. Yet even these quantities of data are no longer seen as large enough to drive discovery. “You are going to need millions of genomes,” says David Altshuler, deputy director of the Broad Institute in Cambridge and chairman of the new organization. And no single database is that big.

The Global Alliance thinks the answer is a network that would open the various databases to limited digital searches by other scientists. Using that concept, says Heidi Rehm, a Harvard Medical School geneticist, the alliance is already working on linking together some of the world’s largest databases of information about the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, as well as nine currently isolated databases containing data about genes that cause rare childhood diseases.



seed vault dsc_0844_inngansparti_kunst_f_mari_tefre

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is established in the permafrost in the mountains of Svalbard, is designed to store duplicates of seeds from seed collections around the globe.


Moscow State University has secured Russia’s largest-ever scientific grant to collect the DNA of every living and extinct creature for the world’s first database of its kind.

“I call the project ‘Noah’s Ark.’ It will involve the creation of a depository – a databank for the storing of every living thing on Earth, including not only living, but disappearing and extinct organisms. This is the challenge we have set for ourselves,” MSU rector Viktor Sadivnichy told journalists.

The gigantic ‘ark’, set to be completed by 2018, will be 430 sq km in size, built at one of the university’s central campuses.

“It will enable us to cryogenically freeze and store various cellular materials, which can then reproduce. It will also contain information systems. Not everything needs to be kept in a petri dish,” Sadivnichy added.

The university’s press office has confirmed that the resulting database will contain collected biomaterials from all of MSU’s branches, including the Botanical Garden, the Anthropological Museum, the Zoological Museum and others. All of the university’s departments will be involved in research and collation of materials. The program, which has received a record injection of 1 billion rubles (US$194 million), will promote participation by the university’s younger generation of scientists.

Sadovnichy also said that the bank will have a link-up to other such facilities at home, perhaps even abroad.


Existing facilities, such as…

Officials of the American Museum of Natural History and the U.S. National Park Service have signed an agreement for samples from endangered species in America’s parks to be added to the museum’s existing DNA collection.

The frozen samples provide researchers with genetic materials to study and help protect hundreds of species. The first new submissions will be blood samples from foxes in California’s Channel Islands National Park, followed by specimens from the American crocodile and the Hawaiian goose.

Underground in the laboratories of the museum a half-dozen metal vats cooled with liquid nitrogen can store up to 1 million frozen tissue samples. They’re stored on racks in bar-coded boxes that are linked to a computer database so they can be located in seconds.

The park service doesn’t have such a state-of-the-art facility. With this kind of DNA analysis it can better manage existing animal populations, using genetic relationships among the samples to trace animals’ movements on land and estimate population sizes.

The samples will provide researchers “with a uniform method to collect, analyze and store genetic material collected in parks,” acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk said.

The lab is part of the Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research, which has allowed geneticists to use its samples for free since 2001. Researchers collect tissue samples from animals in the wilderness — an effort essential to Earth’s biodiversity at a time of massive species loss.

Wenk said the DNA samples going to the Manhattan museum are “a great asset” to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which aims to restore all federally listed threatened and endangered species “to the point where they are again viable, self-sustaining members of their ecological communities.”

Julie Feinstein, who heads the museum’s sample collection, emphasizes that although DNA is extracted from tissue, cloning “is not part of our mission.”

The main goal, museum officials said, is preservation of species.


From this site anyone can link to the first fully sequenced black-footed ferret nuclear genomes—from four representative specimens—and participate in the analysis and interpretation of the data.

The black-footed ferret is the ideal animal for this kind of research.  Over 25 years of captive breeding by US Fish & Wildlife, the Smithsonian, and other institutions has yielded some 8,300 ferrets and highly detailed stud books of their breeding record.  That kind of attention was necessary because the entire living population is descended from only seven founders.  They were part of a tiny remnant population of wild ferrets found in Wyoming in 1981, after the species had been given up for extinct.  Their gene pool may have already been severely bottlenecked.

One of America’s most endangered animals, the black-footed ferret, can become a model for developing genomic diagnosis and genetic rescue techniques that could help many endangered species similarly threatened by the “extinction vortex” of progressive inbreeding and genetic drift.

The problem is the continuing decline of genetic variability in the black-footed ferret’s gene pool.  Any solution will require discovering the exact nature of that decline—genomic diagnosis.  And then techniques may be developed to restore genetic variability—genetic rescue. In his talk “The Future of Human Genomics and Synthetic Biology,” Church discussed the exponentially fast pace of emerging genetic technologies (due in part to his own inventions and advancements in the fields of genetics and synthetic biology) and the application of these technologies to present and future work. Synthetic biology, which includes altering gene sequences and expression of genes in living organisms, relies on existing and emerging technologies to manipulate and reconstruct genes and genomes.

Church noted that we have been genetically engineering humans for decades…

Many technologies in synthetic biology exist and continue to develop. The difficulty largely lies in deciding which technological implementations to allow. Church noted future applications such as releasing more genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the wild, altering ageing genes to extend human life, and manipulating genes to help humans adapt to life in space