Beth Shapiro talks “How to Clone a Mammoth” and more on Yale Environment 360

Shapiro_HowToCloneHow to Clone a Mammoth is drawing major attention from those in the science world and beyond, raising questions about de-extinction. Slate and The Nation turned to the book when discussing the science behind Jurassic World. Could we bring extinct animals back to life? Author Beth Shapiro recently sat down with Yale Environment 360 to talk about her new book, giving insight into the fact that she doesn’t know if the mammoth is what she would chose to clone!

 

 

e360: When you talk about ecological resurrection or restoration, let’s take the mammoth for instance, what does the mammoth do for us from an ecological perspective?

Shapiro: I don’t know, and I’m actually not sure that we really want to bring mammoths back. I think mammoths are a particularly problematic species because of the ethical challenges involved. If we were going to bring mammoths back we’re going to have to involve elephants in some way, at least the way the technology exists today. And we have very little idea of how to meet the physical and psychological needs of elephants when they’re living in captivity. Until we’ve figured out how to do that, we shouldn’t be having elephants in captivity at all, much less using them in hair-brained scientific creative experiments to bring back mammoths. Especially if we don’t really know what a compelling ecological reason to bring back mammoths might be.

So might we want to use de-extinction technologies to edit the genomes of elephants? Asian elephants are the closest living relatives of mammoths and these animals are endangered. What if we could use this same technology, in an ethical way, to engineer Asian elephants that were capable of living in colder climates? If we could do that then we could expand the range of potential habitat for Asian elephants, potentially biding our time so we could clean up the habitat where they belong to the extent we could figure out how to protect them there, and they could potentially be saved from extinction. These are the kinds of applications of this technology that I can see might be much more compelling than bringing back something like the passenger pigeon.

When we think about the passenger pigeon, one thing that one would need to do would be to show what role these animals played in the habitat when they were alive and that sufficient habitat exists, so that if we were to place them back in that habitat they would be able to survive. We would also need to be able to predict what interactions they’re going to have with other species that are also now fighting for a much smaller amount of habitat than when we had passenger pigeons around. This is the same kind of question we’ll need to ask for any candidate species for de-extinction.

Check out the rest of Shapiro‘s interview here.

 

Does De-extinction Bring us Closer to a Real Jurassic World? Beth Shapiro Sounds Off

How to Clone a Mammoth, by Beth ShapiroAs we all await the release of Jurassic World this week, (catch the trailer here), the owner of Russia’s vast nature reserve, Pleistocene Park, is awaiting the arrival of an actual woolly mammoth. Pleistocene Park is a major initiative in northern Siberia that includes an attempt to restore the mammoth steppe ecosystem of the late Pleistocene period. The park has been in existence since the 1970s, but given the progress scientists have made this year in sequencing the mammoth genome, one can’t help but wonder if a real life Jurassic World in Siberia is now close at hand. Alex Hannaford reports for The Telegraph, and the takeaway is we shouldn’t get too excited about going on a T-Rex safari anytime soon:

For the last 20 years at least, most scientists have poured scorn on the idea that dinosaurs could be cloned using the method popularised in the first Jurassic Park film — extracting DNA from an insect entombed in resin. A few years ago scientists studying fossils in New Zealand revealed that the bonds that form the backbone of DNA would be entirely degraded — useless — after 6.8 million years. And seeing as dinosaurs last roamed the Earth 65 million years ago, that ruled out any realistic chance of sequencing their genome.

But the wooly mammoth died out far more recently, which makes it quite another story, according to Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth. She talks to The Telegraph about the more plausible uses of de-extinction technology:

De-extinction, this process of swapping out genomes in existing animals for traits that their ancestors had, but which they could benefit from today, could have other uses, Shapiro says. “Let’s say all of the natural habitat for elephants disappeared. If we could swap those cold-surviving genes [of the mammoth] into elephants, so that we could stick elephants into wild places in Europe or Siberia where elephants used to live, we could use this technology — not to bring mammoths back but to save elephants.”

Shapiro tusk photo

Regardless, de-extinction remains highly controversial, and Shapiro has become a go-to expert on the matter. Carl Zimmer writes in Wall Street Journal, “For anyone who wants a thorough understanding of the technical issues involved in de-extinction, How to Clone a Mammoth should satisfy your curiosity.” During Shapiro’s European tour, she was interviewed about her book for BBC World Service, The Forum and the interview is now available online. Beth was also interviewed for BBC Radio Wales Science Café, as part of a program featuring scientists speaking at Hay Festival. Voice of America aired their interview with Beth recently as well, as did CBC Radio’s national science program Quirks & Quarks.

Shapiro and Kendall

Beth Shapiro and The Forum’s presenter, Bridget Kendall

If you’re looking for eerie similarities between life and art in this case, rest assured they do exist. According to Shapiro, as in real life, “Jurassic Park scientists were only able to recover parts of the dinosaur genome—in the case of the movie, from the mosquito blood that was preserved in amber.” Prospect Magazine’s website has just run an abridged extract from How to Clone a Mammoth where Shapiro elaborates on the real (and not so real) science of Jurassic World. You can also check out the series of original videos by Shapiro on the real life science of de-extinction here.

 

Hay Festival – A Literary Vacation on the Welsh Border

Hay Festival is truly a highlight in the bookworm’s calendar. On a typical day at Hay, you might spend the morning sipping coffee on a sofa in the café marquee with a newspaper and croissant on your lap, followed by a talk on Shakespeare’s Women, then a journey into the future of science with the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, before tripping along to a live lunchtime recording of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb (don’t laugh too loudly or your cackle will be heard by millions!). Over lunch you might catch a glimpse of Stephen Fry walking along in the sunshine, or meet a fellow bumble-bee enthusiast at the next table. Whilst admiring the myriad display of colourful wellies everywhere you look, you rifle through your programme deciding what to go to next. You make a last-minute decision and rush to a talk about homo sapiens, followed by a browse in the books tent and an ice-cream and a read in a deck chair in the sun. Next up, a talk about a better future world and a glimpse at a real page of the Magna Carta, hosted by Stephen Fry and the hilarious Sandi Toksvig, before ending your day dancing at one of the wonderful concerts held in the large Tata Tent.

Hay Festival

Hay Festival gets underway

Princeton University Press has a strong and long-standing relationship with Hay Festival, and we are proud that this year proved to be no exception. Our week was kicked off by the wonderful Beth Shapiro, on the subject of her new book, How to Clone a Mammoth. Is it possible to bring back the mammoth, the dodo, or the sabre-toothed cat? Why would we want to? And, much more importantly, should we? If you’re wishing you could have been there, fear not, as Beth Shapiro gave the same talk at the Royal Institution earlier in the week, and the whole thing can be watched online, here.

Hay Festival Shapiro

Beth Shapiro at Hay Festival

Best-selling Irish novelist Colm Tóibín spoke about his new novel, Nora Webster, and his Princeton book On Elizabeth Bishop at Hay’s opening weekend. Despite covering themes of loss and death that recur in Bishop’s poetry, he had the whole audience of 1100 people roaring with laughter.

Toibin at Hay

Colm Tóibín amusing the crowd at Hay

On Saturday evening, Beth Shapiro and Colm Tóibín were joined by historian Yuval Noah Harari and novelist Owen Sheers to record a live audience programme for Start the Week, to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. A fascinating discussion encompassing pre-historic animals and humans to 20th century poetry and everything in-between. You can listen to the programme online here.

Toibin on Start the Week

Colm Tóibín on Start the Week

Other Princeton author events, which this Princeton publicist would love to have attended but had to go back to her day job (perhaps I should take a week-long vacation during Hay Festival next year…) were talks on dark matter and dark energy by Katherine Freese, director of Nordita, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics and author of The Cosmic Cocktail, and a talk about the process by which artists such as Michelangelo, Dürer, and Titian became early modern celebrities by Maria Loh, author of the beautiful Still Lives.

Who knows who next year will bring to delight the crowds on the Welsh borders. One thing is for sure: it’s worth blocking out your calendar even before you’ve seen the line-up.

#MammothMonday: PUP’s pups sound off on How to Clone a Mammoth

The idea of cloning a mammoth, the science of which is explored in evolutionary biologist and “ancient DNA expert” Beth Shapiro’s new book, How to Clone a Mammoth, is the subject of considerable debate. One can only imagine what the animal kingdom would think of such an undertaking, but wonder no more. PUP staffers were feeling “punny” enough to ask their best friends:

 

Chester reads shapiro

Chester can’t get past “ice age bones”.

 

Buddy reads shapiro

Buddy thinks passenger pigeons would be so much more civilized… and fun to chase.

 

Tux reads shapiro

Tux always wanted to be an evolutionary biologist…

 

Stella reads Shapiro

Stella thinks 240 pages on a glorified elephant is a little excessive. Take her for a walk.

 

Murphy reads shapiro

A mammoth weighs how much?! Don’t worry, Murphy. The tundra is a long way from New Jersey.

 

Glad we got that out of our systems. Check out a series of original videos on cloning from How to Clone a Mammoth author Beth Shapiro here.

#MammothMonday: What’s Next?

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In today’s #MammothMonday exclusive video, Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction, raises big questions about cloning technology and explains how she feels this controversial technology should be used.

[vimeo:https://vimeo.com/123646254]

You can also listen to Shapiro’s interview on NPR from this past weekend, where she discussed the motivations for bringing back an extinct species, along with some of the specific risks involved with releasing genetically engineered elephants into the wild.

Read Chapter 1, here.

#MammothMonday: How Does the Science of De-Extinction Work?

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Happy #MammothMonday! Today, Beth Shapiro clarifies the science of de-extinction. As she explains, if scientists possess a tiny bit of living tissue from a species that has gone extinct recently, they can bring back that animal through traditional means. However, if the species has been extinct for millions of years and there is no living tissue, the process of bringing the animal back to life is far more difficult. Beth had a terrific piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently that offers much more info, and geneticists have been sounding off on the discussion as well. Check out today’s original video:

[vimeo:https://vimeo.com/123646252]

Read about de-extinction, in How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction. Preview Chapter 1.

Announcing Beth Shapiro’s “Mammoth” US & UK Book Tour

Hot on the heels of scientists sequencing the full mammoth genome and announcing they had created living elephant cells containing synthesised mammoth DNA, Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction, will be touring the US and UK, giving lectures on her book. Save the date for her visit to a town near you, and be sure to check out #MammothMonday blog posts and Chapter 1 of the book. Also, read Shapiro’s terrific piece on “de-extinction” on The Guardian website here.

US Tour:

5/3/15            Skeptics, Pasadena CA
5/4/15            Smithsonian
5/5/15            92nd St. Y
5/5/15            Princeton Public Library
5/6/15            Harvard Book Store
5/7/15            Philadelphia Free Library
5/11/15          Long Now Foundation
5/12/15          Seattle Town Hall/Pac Sci
5/13/15          Powell’s Books
6/25/15          Commonwealth Club

Shapiro Image for blog 3.30.15

UK Tour:

5/19/15        Natural History Museum, Oxford
5/20/15        How to Academy
5/21/15        Royal Institution
5/22/15        Bristol Festival of Ideas
5/23/15        Hay Festival

#MammothMonday: Could We Bring Back the Passenger Pigeon?

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Just days ago, scientists were finally successful in sequencing the full mammoth genome. Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth offered commentary on this exciting and ethically controversial achievement. According to the BBC News, “A US team is already attempting to study the animals’ characteristics by inserting mammoth genes into elephant stem cells.”

For today’s #MammothMonday, Beth Shapiro expresses her doubts and concerns about bringing back the passenger pigeon, pointing out the unique difficulties involved in cloning a bird. Learn more about Shapiro’s reasoning in the video below.

[vimeo:https://vimeo.com/123646253]

Be sure to pick up a copy of How to Clone a Mammoth. You can read Chapter 1, here. Interested in learning more about passenger pigeons? Check out The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller. Read the Introduction.

Beth Shapiro at Kepler’s

Shapiro at Kelper's

Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth, has begun her book tour across the US and the UK. Last Thursday, April 16, Beth had a wonderful event at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA, where she gave an overview of her intriguing book and fielded questions from the audience. We are featuring content related to How to Clone a Mammoth every Monday on our blog as part of our #MammothMonday series. Be sure to read the first chapter and pick up a copy of the book.

Kelper's blog 3

#MammothMonday: Can We Clone a Mammoth?

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In today’s #MammothMonday post, Beth Shapiro addresses a frequently asked question, “Can we clone a mammoth, if so when is it going to happen?”  In answering, Shapiro brings up a crucial point: What is the audience willing to consider a mammoth? Find out her answer and learn more about How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction in this video:

[vimeo:https://vimeo.com/123645248]

Be sure to read Chapter 1.

Beth Shapiro Talk, Q&A and Book Signing

Shapiro Image for blog 3.30.15

Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth, will be giving a talk on “Conserving Ecosystems with De-Extinction” on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. This event is presented by Town Hall, Elliot Bay Book Company, and the Pacific Science Center through The Seattle Science Lectures. More information about the event and a link to buy tickets can be found, here.

#MammothMonday: What to Bring Back?

How to Clone a Mammoth

Welcome to another #MammothMonday. Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth, was recently called by Brian Switek of National Geographic, “the perfect guide to the ongoing discussion about de-extinction.” Today, she continues in that role, answering the question, “What to Bring Back?” In this fascinating video, Beth discusses the thinking behind the decision to bring back a large mammal as opposed to passenger pigeons.

[vimeo:http://vimeo.com/123644108]

What do you think about the debate around cloning mammoths?