Stories tagged cloning

Frozen baby mammoth: This image shows a frozen baby mammoth, on display at the Field Museum in Chicago, found several years ago by the same research team.
Frozen baby mammoth: This image shows a frozen baby mammoth, on display at the Field Museum in Chicago, found several years ago by the same research team.Courtesy Matt Howry
On a remote Arctic island of northern Russia, researchers have found another fully frozen mammoth. And this discovery comes with an added bonus. The specimen has liquid blood. It's the biggest breakthrough for potentially collecting viable mammoth DNA to conduct cloning experiments to try to recreate the long-extinct pachyderms. The link above also has a nice gallery of photos showing this discovery and a vial of actual liquid mammoth blood. And here's a link to a previous Buzz post of discovering frozen mammoths, the potential for cloning them and the ethics of doing so.

Apr
22
2013

Tall order: Scientists are cloning giant redwood trees from California in an effort to reforest lost trees and combat climate change.
Tall order: Scientists are cloning giant redwood trees from California in an effort to reforest lost trees and combat climate change.Courtesy Victorgrigas
Start talking about giant cloning projects, and the conversation is going to quickly turn to Jurassic Park, the film that "what iffed" the cloning of dinosaurs. It was all for fun, if beyond hypothetical.

But giants of another kind, trees, are being cloned in an effort to help turn the balance of deteriorating conditions here on Earth. California's iconic, and incredibly tall, redwood trees are getting the cloning treatment. You can read the full details about the project here. And today, Earth Day 2013, the project is going global as clones of these redwoods are being planted in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Germany and the U.S.

Why clone just behemoth trees? The guys running the project surmise where better to find the strongest, hardiest genetic codes to withstand the coming climate pressures than in these huge redwoods, many which have lived for over 4,000 years.

The current crop of plantings come from the DNA of giant trees cut down about a century ago. Even though the bulk of the trees are just stumps today, those stumps are very much alive. They have live shoots emerging from the stumps, which the researchers can extract DNA from to serve as the basis for their cloning work.

The new plantings have a long way to go. They're only about 18 inches tall right now. The big challenge, the researchers say, is to find people and resources to nurture this little trees into viable, independent growers.

Redwoods are considered best suited to absorb massive volumes of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for climate change.

What do you think? Is this a good application for cloning? Can these huge trees make a difference with climate change over the long haul? Should we be tinkering around with this kind of science?

Jan
17
2011

Although, despite its elephant mother: it should be a true genetic mammoth, and not some sort of hybrid Altered Beast.
Although, despite its elephant mother: it should be a true genetic mammoth, and not some sort of hybrid Altered Beast.Courtesy Tracy O
Y'all were probably walking around thinking, "Hey! There's pretty much no way a woolly mammoth could kill me. Dip-de-doo!"

And y'all were probably snuggling into bed each night, cozy in the knowledge that if there was any way a mammoth could end your life, it would have to be from a 12,000-year-old tusk falling off an overloaded tusk-shelf, or something. And you went to sleep happy and safe.

Well, y'all are about to feel like a jerk. Sorry, but 3... 2... 1...

Scientists in Japan want to clone a woolly mammoth and there's a chance, however imperceptibly small, that that cloned mammoth could kill you!!! Like, maybe you're having a birthday party in Japan, and, attracted by the smell of cake, the mammoth breaks free from its enclosure and stomps your whole party. And it eats your cake!

You're thinking a) mammoths don't give a crap about cake; and b) they've talked about cloning mammoths for years, and it still hasn't happened, and I haven't been attacked by any Pleistocene megafauna.

Ok. A) How do you presume to know if a mammoth will want cake or not? Plus, it doesn't have to be cake. Maybe you're just jogging through Japan, and the mammoth sees your mousy ears and decides you need a stomping. The scenarios are practically limitless.

And B) this particular announcement may be something new in the field of wild speculation. While previous plans to do some mammoth cloning have been dismissed on account of all available mammoth DNA being damaged by a dozen millennia, a new technique may have bypassed that hurdle. Scientists at Kobe's Riken Center for Developmental Biology have cloned a mouse from cells that had been frozen for 16 years, and they think the same method could be applied to frozen mammoth remains. If enough viable DNA can be obtained, it would be implanted in the egg of an African elephant to create a mammoth embryo.

This won't happen overnight, however. There's still research to be done, and clone success rates in normal animals hover around 30%. And even if a mammoth embryo is successfully created, elephant gestation lasts about a year and a half. If all goes well, the scientists think it's possible to have a living, cloned mammoth within 6 years.

So enjoy the next six years. After that... it could be a bloodbath!

Feb
27
2009

This bear is full of love, questions: Although I'd like to trade a capitalization for an apostrophe.
This bear is full of love, questions: Although I'd like to trade a capitalization for an apostrophe.Courtesy aussiegall
To quote the wise and indomitable Tyra Banks: “Hey y’all!”

It’s Friday (I think) and relationships still exist (that’s what I hear) so it’s time again for everybody’s favorite Friday Science Buzz feature: The Friday Relationship Extravaganza!

This week’s relationship feature promises to be especially… extravagasmic, because today we’re pairing it up with some good old fashioned random questions.

See, on Thursday night, all the Buzz blog features went out for drinks after work. Random Questions promised itself that it would just have two drinks, but you know how that sort of thing goes… Pretty soon the ginger ale was flowing, and next thing you know Random Questions is waking up in Extravaganza’s bed.

OMG, right?

But don’t even worry about it. Nothing happened. Extravaganza slept on the couch. Still, these are work friends, not friend friends, and they had to talk about something when they got to the office. And so…

Friday Relationship Extravaganza: Random Questions Edition

So paddle around with me in the HMS Puddleduck, won’t you?

Question: Why do praying mantis females eat their mates?

Answer: Hmm… This is a hard one. If relationships weren’t tricky enough, relationships that involve cannibalism are particularly troublesome. I mean, look at Jeffrey Dahmer.

It’s also difficult to answer because it seems like scientists are sure exactly why mantises behave this way. Originally it was thought that female mantises bit off their mates’ heads because removing the head caused the male to start, er, mating like crazy (and why not, I guess.) Plus, the lady mantis gets a snack.

Then, some scientists pointed out that this behavior could be influenced by the fact that the mantises were being watched—whether in the field or in a laboratory, the bright lights and steamy glasses of sweaty-palmed scientists might be a little distracting and stressful for mantis lovers, and could cause them to behave a little irrationally.

Other scientists then observed that if a female were fed before mating, she would be less likely to snap at her mate (as it were). With the threat of having his head bitten off lessened, a male mantis will sometimes even engage in elaborate courtship behavior (and why not, I guess.)

Recently, researchers have determined that male mantises, in fact, don’t like getting eaten, and will approach a female with tremendous caution and attempt to couple from a greater distance to avoid it.

So, what are we left with? Removing a mating male’s head can increase that male’s chance of successfully reproducing (because of the mating like crazy thing). But not getting killed on a lucky date can also increase a male’s chance of reproducing (because he can maybe go on to have more dates with other females). And being watched my scientists while having sex can be stressful. And being hungry while having sex can lead lady mantises to do things they might later regret.

Is that close enough to a real answer?

Question: (This question card is actually two questions. “Why can’t boys have babies?” was written first, and then scratched out. A more logical rephrasing of the question follows: “How long would it take to grow a boyfriend?” Because I’m the acting commander of the HMS Puddleduck, choosing which question to answer is my prerogative. So I will answer both. This is an extravaganza, after all.)

Why can’t boys have babies?

Answer: Well… I can see why you decided to re-write this question. Because, of course, boys can have babies. If I were to see a baby sitting on the street, and if I were to take that baby, guess what? I’d technically have a baby. (And don’t get all sassy about how I shouldn’t go around just taking babies willy-nilly. Would you rather I left that baby sitting in the street?)

Also, according to the research presented in Junior, men can make their own babies, no problem. But until that technology is released to fertility clinics, boys can’t have babies because… well, just because. That’s how things worked out.

We have evolved to use internal fertilization—that is, we don’t just release eggs and sperm into the ocean in the hopes that they’ll mix around on their own. And thank God, because where would the Relationship Extravaganza be if we all acted like fish and amphibians? No place good.

And so, I don’t know… one of the two sexes got stuck with carrying fertilized eggs/babies around, and it’s usually the female (Seahorses are an interesting counterexample, however). And, at this point, human males couldn’t really do it, because we haven’t got the equipment. I mean, the underwhelming birth canal is really the least of the issues here (and that’s saying something.)

Sorry if I’m being vague on this answer, but I think it might be a good question for our current Scientist on the Spot, PZ Myers. I think this question comes down to evolution, and why it makes sense for just one sex to carry developing offspring. PZ is the expert on evolution, so click on these pink words and see if he has any thoughts on the subject.

How long would it take to grow a boyfriend?

Answer: I guess it depends on how you like your boyfriends. If you like your men young, I’d say you could have a boyfriend ready in about nine months. If you want some kind of loving, responsible and mature boyfriend, you might have to wait… what, about 35 years? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Then again, “accelerated aging” seems to be a staple of all cloning-related sci-fi, so maybe we should look into that…

When a mad scientist makes my perfect double to replace me after I get kidnapped, accelerated aging techniques will be essential to ensuring that the clone and I are indistinguishable. After all, a regular (non-mad) scientist might be able to clone me now, but the clone would be a baby, and it wouldn’t be a very convincing replacement. (I pee my pants so rarely these days, it’s hardly worth brining up.)

However, it seems like accelerated aging might be an unintended consequence of some cloning techniques already, and doesn’t even require special tanks and serums. When Dolly the sheep was cloned, scientists found that she suffered from arthritis and lung disease at a relatively young age, leading them to believe that she was prematurely aging. One thought is that Dolly’s telomeres were too short. Telomeres are pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes, and their deterioration is responsible for aging. Telomeres prevent chromosomes from accidentally combining with each other. If the chromosomes were to combine with each other, it could result in the cell becoming cancerous, so when a telomere runs out or wears down, the cell is usually destroyed. The shortening of telomeres puts a limit on the number of times a cell can divide, and when cells don’t divide anymore, you start to age. They aren’t sure exactly what caused Dolly’s telomeres to be short (if that was indeed the cause of her rapid aging).

But that’s sort of the downhill part of aging—if you were to clone or genetically engineer your perfect boyfriend, and somehow shorten his telomeres (if it didn’t happen automatically from the cloning) you’d probably end up with some sort of odd Benjamin Button situation, and that might not be what you want.

To even things out, you might have to affect the pituitary gland in some way. The pituitary controls hormones that cause growth, and disorders with the pituitary gland can sometimes cause kids to grow very large very quickly. Many of the world’s tallest people have had pituitary disorders.

I’m thinking that you’d still need eight or nine years to balance out the pituitary and telomere stuff in your grown boyfriend. And he might not thank you for it.

And there we are! Another heartwarming Relationship Extravaganza, spiced with random questions. But the Puddleduck must be off—I still have a stack of questions here that require answers from the far off reaches of knowledge. And several of them have swearwords in them that I have to rephrase, which isn’t easy, if you want to keep the spirit of the original question. (And I do.)

Nov
20
2008

Man vs. mammoth: Is a face-off like this in our future...again?
Man vs. mammoth: Is a face-off like this in our future...again?Courtesy redskunk
Scientists are another step closer to making Jurassic Park a reality. Well, not quite Jurassic Park, but certainly Pleistocene Park.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have decoded 80 percent of the DNA for the woolly mammoth, an elephant ancestor that went extinct about 10,000 years ago. The results of their study appear in the journal Nature.

The DNA was extracted from actual mammoth hair found preserved in the permafrost of Siberia. Hair encapsulates DNA, providing a purer source of the genetic material than that found in fossil bones that are vulnerable to contamination by bacteria and other creatures involved in decomposition. We covered this in a previous post.

About six million years of evolution separate the wooly mammoth from its modern descendents the Indian and African elephants. And so far they appear genetically to be very similar, although a complete assessment of differences won’t be available until the complete genomes of mammoths and modern elephants are mapped. The data sets for each is comprised of about 4 billion DNA bases.

But even then you don’t have to worry about rogue mammoths running amok on the interstates (have you ever hit a moose? Multiply that experience by about 15). Science is still decades away from cloning an actual specimen – or even a hybrid with a living elephant - from the genetic material. The technology just isn’t there yet. But that’s not the only thing in the way.

"It could be done,” said co-author Stephan Schuster, a biochemistry professor at Penn State. “The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?"

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? The same question was posed by one of the characters in Michael Crichton's book Jurassic Park just before things got really hairy.

SOURCES and LINKS

Penn State's mammoth research page
Live Science story
Previous Buzz story on mammoth cloning

Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced Korean stem cell researcher, is back in the news again with a report that he has successfully cloned dogs.

May
22
2008

You want to do what with my DNA?: A California company is auctioning off the rights to make clones of the dogs of the five highest online bidders.
You want to do what with my DNA?: A California company is auctioning off the rights to make clones of the dogs of the five highest online bidders.Courtesy monkeyc.net
A man’s best friend could become a permanent best friend under a proposal being floated by a California company. BioArts International is offering to clone the dogs of the five highest bidders, guaranteeing that they’ll always have some version of their favorite pet throughout their life.

But before you get too excited, it won’t be cheap. Opening bid prices are $100,000. And the chief cloner is scientist from South Korea who was discredited by having faked research in an earlier cloning project. The research team has already made three cloned dogs from the DNA of dog from BioArts’ CEO. The original dog, Missy, died in 2002.

There are plenty of issues to chew on this ethical bone. The fervent anti-cloners fear that this could be the first step in human cloning. If people are willing to pony up the dough to duplicate a favorite pet, wouldn’t that stoke the fires for creating a duplicate of a favorite baby or child?

On the flip side, pro-cloners say why not continue to give people the joy and pleasures they receive from a favorite pet even after its lifetime ends.

The BioArts CEO vouches for the effectiveness of dog cloning. Missy’s clones exhibit much of the same behavioral characteristics he saw in Missy. You've got some time to round up the cash if you want to do this to your dog. The auction begins on June 18. More details are hear at the BioArts website.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea? Would you like to clone your dog? Is so, how much would you be willing to pay? Share your thoughts here with other Buzz readers.

This video is high on the cute quotient, but it's pretty important, too. South Korean government officials have cloned seven lab retriever dogs from a current drug-sniffing dog. They hope the clones will be quicker learners of the drug-sniffing techniques that are used in airports and harbors.

Jan
22
2008

Human embryos using animal eggs

Embryo, 8 cells
Embryo, 8 cellsCourtesy Ekem
Last week we learned that scientists cloned human embryos using adult skin and fertile eggs from a woman donor. Now the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in Britain has approved creating human embryos using eggs from animals like cows or rabbits. Because the animal cell's nucleus would be removed before human DNA was added, scientists said the resulting egg would not be a chimera.

"Cow eggs seem to be every bit as good at doing this job as human eggs," said Lyle Armstrong of Newcastle University.
"We will only use them as a scientific tool and we need not worry about cells being derived from them ever being used to treat human diseases," Armstrong said.

Technique eliminates destruction of human eggs

Animal eggs are abundant and easily obtained. Researchers hope to refine their techniques by practicing first on animal eggs to producing human stem cells. Human stem cells, which have the ability to develop into any cell in the human body, show promise for understanding and healing many human ailments. The embryos would not be allowed to develop for more than two weeks.