How to Make a Dodo

Biologist Beth Shapiro has figured out a recipe for success in the field of ancient DNA research

(Cheryl Carlin)
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Like many of her colleagues, Shapiro parries a lot of questions about cloning; the idea of re-creating an extinct species is just so tantalizing. But there are massive technical challenges scientists have yet to overcome: ancient DNA tends to come in lots of tiny fragments, and without a living animal, there's no way to reconstruct which genes come into play at which stages of the dodo's development. In short: no dodo mama, no dodo baby.

But more important, she questions whether bringing species back into a world where they have no habitat makes sense. "Sure, it's sexy and high profile to talk about cloning extinct species," she says, "but there are many more important contributions that can be made. The danger is people might be lazy and think cloning is the way to solve the extinction problem." Instead, she'll keep trying to find out why some species went extinct in the first place. She hopes her research can help prevent modern species from going the way of the dodo.

Andrew Curry wrote about Romania's painted monasteries in the June issue of Smithsonian. He lives in Berlin.

About Andrew Curry
Andrew Curry

Andrew Curry is a Berlin-based journalist who writes about science and history for a variety of publications, including National Geographic, Nature, and Wired. He is a contributing editor at Archaeology and has visited archaeological excavations on five continents. (Photo Credit: Jennifer Porto)

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