Genomes: A mammoth task

After thousands of years of extinction, the woolly mammoth has its DNA decoded this week in Nature. The study marks the first report of nuclear genome sequencing for an extinct animal. Also, this week’s features celebrate the anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species.


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VOL.456 NO.7220 DATED 20 NOVEMBER 2008

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Genomes: A mammoth task (pp 310-314; 387-390; N&V)

After thousands of years of extinction, the woolly mammoth has its DNA decoded this week in Nature. The study marks the first report of nuclear genome sequencing for an extinct animal.

Using DNA extracted from samples of hair, Stephan Schuster and colleagues were able to collect together the near-complete nuclear genome of the woolly mammoth. The team used samples from several different mammoth species found preserved in the permafrost to piece together the jigsaw puzzle. Although there are still pieces missing, the authors believe that the sequence of the woolly mammoth is around 80% complete. The findings identify genes shared with its modern elephant cousins, and offer insight into elephantid evolution.

In an accompanying feature article, Henry Nicholls looks at how plausible it might be to resurrect the mammoth on the basis of its DNA. From the construction of synthetic chromosomes to the peculiar difficulties of harvesting eggs from elephants, the feature provides a step by step guide to a procedure far beyond today’s technology – but not necessarily impossibly far beyond tomorrow’s.

Stephan Schuster (Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA)
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Michael Hofreiter (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany) N&V author
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Henry Nicholls (Science writer, London, UK)
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Features in this issue… (pp 296-309)

This week’s features celebrate the anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species: Marek Kohn looks at the continuing arguments about “group selection” – does evolution only care about individuals, or can it concern itself with the good of a group? Simon Ings offers a pictorial celebration of the evolution of the eye. Finally, Tanguy Chouard reports on new discoveries about the very different genetic programmes evolution sometimes uses to get very similar results – discoveries that seem to go against decades of received wisdom

Marek Kohn (Science writer, Brighton, UK)
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Simon Ings (Science writer, London, UK)
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Tanguy Chouard (Senior Editor, Nature, London, UK)
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Published: 19 Nov 2008

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