Stephen Riffle 10/18/2022 at 11:54 am
It seems that, every year, there is a short flurry of headlines about de-extinction efforts. Sometimes it’s centered on the possibility that woolly mammoths may one day walk among us again. Other times it’s the thylacine, or—less dramatically—the carrier pigeon.
The theoretical merits of these efforts can be explored, and much ink has been spilled over the ethical implications of reintroducing extinct species. But far less attention has been paid to the possibility of resurrecting extinct tissues.
Using synthetic biology, a team of researchers at the University of Manitoba successfully expressed a version of hemoglobin derived from the woolly mammoth genome in 2010. For the first time in thousands of years, a mammoth gene was shuttled through life’s central dogma. In doing so, the researchers learned about the evolution of hemoglobin and adaptations that allowed for oxygen exchange in extremely cold environments.
This is an instance of a resurrected protein. What might we learn if we were to resurrect tissues?
For example, a portion of the Neanderthal liver. Theoretically, it could be possible—we already have a powerful Liver-Chip model that uses human cell lines. Through genetic engineering, perhaps these cells could be made to reflect the Neanderthal genome and, in doing so, be used to resurrect a Neanderthal liver. This is theoretical, but it is also interesting food for thought.
Suppose this were not only possible, but feasible. What extinct tissues would you resurrect and why? As I gave away in the above example, I’d be curious to see how Neanderthal tissues respond to various environmental toxicants and how that compares to Homo sapiens sapiens. Maybe it would be fruitless, or maybe it would shed light on some of the selective pressures that influenced group dynamics and ultimately hominid survival.
So, what would you resurrect?
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