Jurassic Park


Imagine a dodo bird waddling on a pond near your house. Or a woolly mammoth lumbering along. How about a pterodactyl soaring overhead? Sound far out? Genetic engineering (GE) makes it possible to "resurrect" extinct species, just like in the movie Jurassic Park. As an animated tour guide in the movie explains, it all comes down to DNA. If you can recover a useable sample of an organism's DNA (easier said than done), then biotechnology gives you the tools to clone (copy) that DNA, insert it into an egg, and develop it into a dinosaur or any extinct animal. This process is not just movie make-believe though, it is really happening! In Iowa, a cow named Bessie bore a calf that was not a cow at all but a gaur, an ox-like animal native to the jungles of India and Burma. The gaur DNA was cloned into a cow's egg, which had its own DNA removed. That egg was then implanted into Bessie who carried the gaur and gave birth to it. (Sadly, the gaur died shortly after its birth due to a bacterial infection.)

The gaur is not extinct, but endangered, which brings up an important point. GE could actually help save species teetering on the edge of extinction, an opportunity in the eyes of some scientists. They view GE as a way to preserve biodiversity, keeping as many species in the mix as possible. They also see it as a way to reverse the harmful effects humans have on the animal kingdom. Not everyone shares that sunny outlook though. Critics say the technology will produce herds of animals that are genetically identical. These identical herds would share not only the same strengths, but the same weaknesses. This would leave them vulnerable to diseases that could wipe out the entire herd, actually reducing biodiversity. Another concern centers on habitats for these cloned animals. Many animals face endangerment and extinction because their natural habitat is disappearing, or because the habitat no longer has the food, water, or shelter the animal needs to survive. Will a zoo be the only place these clones can live?

GE gives researchers a lot of tools to tinker with, and a lot of questions to consider when it comes to "engineering" the animal world.

Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.



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