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Monday, April 15, 2024

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Could The Return Of The Dodo Be A Reality? Important Discoveries Made By Scientists

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After many years of research, scientists have been able to sequence the entire genome of our flightless bird for the very first time, which raises the hope that the Dodo might return from its extinction.

Indeed, scientists have been struggling over the years to find a well preserved DNA of the Dodo before managing to get a sample from a ‘fantastic specimen’ in Denmark. However, they made it clear that though they have extracted a well preserved DNA, it does not mean that it would be easy to turn it into a ‘living, breathing, actual animal‘.

To recall, the Dodo was a flightless 3ft and 1 metre tall bird that was eradicated in the 17th century, just 100 years after its discovery on the island of Mauritius. It was hunted by humans and was the prey for cats, dogs and pigs, that had been brought with the sailors exploring the Indian Ocean at that time. Since the bird was living on a remote island far from any kind of predators, the bird was fearless but was an easy prey due to its inability to fly. The last confirmed specimen was spotted in 1662 while the Dutch sailors had discovered this species in 1598.

Coming back to the discovery of the genome of the bird, Professor Beth Shapiro, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said that her team would soon publish the complete DNA of the Dodo specimen in the Natural History Museum of Copenhagen. ‘The dodo genome is entirely sequenced because we sequenced it,’ she stated in a webinar. ‘It has not yet published but it exists and we’re working on it right now.’

Professor Shapiro added that ‘I have tried to get the DNA from a specimen in Oxford for a long time but we managed to get only a tiny little bit of the DNA… and unfortunately, that particular sample didn’t have sufficiently well-preserved DNA’. She then confirmed that her team had instead used the DNA from a specimen in Denmark but warned that it would be difficult to bring the bird back to life.

According to her, ‘mammals are simpler. If I have a cell that’s living in a dish in the lab and I edit it so that it has a bit of Dodo DNA, how do I then transform that cell into a whole living, breathing, actual animal?

‘The way we can do this is to clone it using the same approach that was used to create Dolly the Sheep, but we don’t know how to do that with birds because of the intricacies of their reproductive pathways.

Professor Shapiro added that ‘So there needs to be another approach for birds and this is one really fundamental technological hurdle in de-extinction.’ She confirmed that ‘There are groups of experts working on different approaches for doing that and I have little doubt that we are going to get there but it is an additional hurdle for birds, which is inexistent for mammals.’

The Dodo got its name from the Portuguese word for ‘fool’ after the colonialists mocked its apparent lack of fear towards human hunters. Bigger than a turkey, it weighed about 50 pounds (23 kg) and had a blue-grey plumage, a big head, small wings and stout yellow legs. As it is closely related genetically-wise to the Nicobar pigeon, it is likely that scientists would edit the pigeon’s DNA to include the DNA of the Dodo in order to bring back the species.

‘De-extinction’ of the Dodo would be preferable than an animal from further back in time, according to Mike Benton, a Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol, because it would be more likely to survive in today’s environment. However, he warned that it may not completely resemble to what the flightless bird used to look like.

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