A Crazy, Stupid, Arrogant Idea. Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

First of all they aren’t talking about bringing BACK the mammoth but creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid with long hair and a lot of fat. To live where? Second, lower in the article is the statement that mammoths pushing away snow to get at the grass beneath exposes the soil so the permnafrost can stay frozen. Really? Seriously?

Scientists Say They Could Bring Back Woolly Mammoths. But Maybe They Shouldn’t

Updated September 15, 20216:24 AM ET

Scott Neuman Twitter

An artist’s impression of a woolly mammoth in a snow-covered environment. Leonello Calvetti/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images/Stocktrek Images

Using recovered DNA to “genetically resurrect” an extinct species — the central idea behind the Jurassic Park films — may be moving closer to reality with the creation this week of a new company that aims to bring back woolly mammoths thousands of years after the last of the giants disappeared from the Arctic tundra.

Flush with a $15 million infusion of funding, Harvard University genetics professor George Church, known for his pioneering work in genome sequencing and gene splicing, hopes the company can usher in an era when mammoths “walk the Arctic tundra again.” He and other researchers also hope that a revived species can play a role in combating climate change.

“We are working towards bringing back species who left an ecological void as they went extinct,” the company, Colossal, said in answer to questions emailed by NPR. “As Colossal actively pursues the conservation and preservation of endangered species, we are identifying species that can be given a new set of tools from their extinct relatives to survive in new environments that desperately need them.”

To be sure, what’s being proposed is actually a hybrid created using a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 to splice bits of DNA recovered from frozen mammoth specimens into that of an Asian elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative. The resulting animal — known as a “mammophant” — would look, and presumably behave, much like a woolly mammoth.

Some say reintroduced mammoths could help reverse climate change

Church and others believe that resurrecting the mammoth would plug a hole in the ecosystem left by their decline about 10,000 years ago (although some isolated populations are thought to have remained in Siberia until about 1,700 B.C.). The largest mammoths stood more than 10 feet at the shoulder and are believed to have weighed as much as 15 tons.

Mammoths once scraped away layers of snow so that cold air could reach the soil and maintain the permafrost. After they disappeared, the accumulated snow, with its insulating properties, meant the permafrost began to warm, releasing greenhouse gases, Church and others contend. They argue that returning mammoths — or at least hybrids that would fill the same ecological niche — to the Arctic could reverse that trend.

“With the reintroduction of the woolly mammoth … we believe our work will restore this degraded ecosystem to a richer one, similar to the tundra that existed as recently as 10,000 years ago,” the company says.

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Love Dalén, a professor in evolutionary genetics at the Stockholm-based Centre for Palaeogenetics, is skeptical of that claim.

“I personally do not think that this will have any impact, any measurable impact, on the rate of climate change in the future, even if it were to succeed,” he tells NPR. “There is virtually no evidence in support of the hypothesis that trampling of a very large number of mammoths would have any impact on climate change, and it could equally well, in my view, have a negative effect on temperatures.”

The body of Lyuba, a baby woolly mammoth who lived about 42,000 years ago on the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia, is exhibited in Hong Kong. South China Morning Post/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

The techniques might be better used to help endangered species

But even if the researchers at Colossal can bring back mammoths — and that is not certain — the obvious question is, should they?

“I can see some reasons to do the first steps where you are tinkering with cell lines and editing the genomes,” Dalén says. “I think there is a lot of technological development that can be done [and] we can learn a lot about how to edit genomes, and that could be really useful for endangered species today.”

Joseph Frederickson, a vertebrate paleontologist and director of the Weis Earth Science Museum in Menasha, Wis., was inspired as a child by the original Jurassic Park movie. But even he thinks that the more important goal should be preventing extinction rather than reversing it.

“If you can create a mammoth or at least an elephant that looks like a good copy of a mammoth that could survive in Siberia, you could do quite a bit for the white rhino or the giant panda,” he tells NPR.

Especially for animals that have “dwindling genetic diversity,” Frederickson says, adding older genes from the fossil record or entirely new genes could increase the health of those populations.

Speaking with NPR in 2015, Beth Shapiro, a paleogeneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction,said emphatically, “I don’t want to see mammoths come back.”

“It’s never going to be possible to create a species that is 100% identical,” she said. “But what if we could use this technology not to bring back mammoths but to save elephants?”

Mammoths might upset existing ecosystems

Colossal’s expressed aim also brings up another ethical concern: Although the extinction of the mammoth thousands of years ago left a gap in the ecosystem, that ecosystem has presumably now adapted, at least imperfectly, to their absence.

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“There is a new normal that has existed for thousands of years that has adapted to the continually changing climate,” Frederickson says. “Bringing back something that has all the characteristics that would have thrived in the Pleistocene doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to survive today, especially when you’re mixing in the unknowns of other genes that are acting in a warm-weather tropical animal and then trying to move it to a new environment.”

“There were plants and animals that were living alongside the mammoth that are now long gone or have drastically shrunk in their range, and just bringing back the mammoth won’t bring those back,” he says.

Colossal says it’s not trying to bring back an invasive species but instead wants to “enrich an ecosystem that has been, and continues to be, steadily degrading without its presence.”

In yet a different sense, there’s the question of how mammoths might fit in.

“The proposed ‘de-extinction’ of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue. The mammoth was not simply a set of genes — it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant,” Matthew Cobb, a professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, told The Guardian, in 2017. “What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?”

Predicted six-year timeline would be exceptionally short

All of this, of course, assumes that producing a mammophant is even possible. Colossal says it hopes to produce an embryo in six years. But with an estimated 1.4 million individual genetic mutations separating the ancient creatures from Asian elephants, the task of gene splicing could prove a mammoth undertaking.

Perhaps an even bigger obstacle might be developing an artificial uterus for gestating the embryos. Even Church acknowledges that this might not be so easy. Among other things, the company plans to create “a pumping system for exchange of gas, nutrient and waste metabolites, and umbilical blood supply with the goal of carrying a woolly mammoth embryo to term in vitro.” Researchers have been working on just such a device, but technical hurdles remain.

“Is this going to happen anytime soon? The answer is absolutely not,” says Frederickson.

Dalén agrees that the six-year timeline is “exceptionally short.” “It seems pretty ambitious,” he says.

But Church and his colleagues aren’t alone in their ambition. The idea of mammoth de-extinction has been around for some time, and other groups, such as the California-based nonprofit Revive & Restore, which last year managed the first-ever clone of an endangered species, the black-footed ferret, have also been working on a mammoth-elephant hybrid.

The Salt

Woolly Mammoths’ Taste For Flowers May Have Been Their Undoing

The traditional scientific view is that our ancestors hunted the mammoth to extinction, while more recent theories point to habitat destruction at the end of the last ice age as the biggest factor, but with humans still copping part of the blame.

Frederickson thinks that’s one of the reasons that the question of de-extinction — fueled by pop culture and real-world advances in science — is raised so frequently by

the patrons at the museum he heads. “I think, as humans, we have a little bit of guilt in us, still knowing that we almost certainly contributed to that extinction event.”

“This may be a way of getting that burden off of our backs,” he says.


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Humility (2)

During the last, say 150 years there has been unrelenting and consistent technological change in nearly all areas – medicine, communications, travel, energy, the list is seemingly endless. It is almost unbelievable, actually. Somehow there seems to have been a parallel assumption that we humans have also changed greatly, maybe because we think we must have changed to bring forth all these marvels, and maybe, even more, many of us think that with all these new wonderful tools the measure of people, their character and behavior, must be changing rapidly as well. There has been, for at least six or seven generations, a steady belief in inevitable progress in all areas, including the character and behavior of humans.

This is a huge, huge mistake, in my opinion, because human nature hasn’t changed despite all these technological breakthroughs. The evidence of our own eyes and memories, for those of us who have been around for eight or nine decades, is exactly the opposite, as is the historical record – we humans have been bad to each other, always and forever.

Go way back, way way back, before farming, before towns and cities, the time of great ice and terrible animals, and humans barely hanging on in remote safe places. When a group invaded another group’s territory, back then, it seems they captured the women and children but killed off all the men, all of them, so there would not be retribution. Surely humans then, and in the years since, and today, are selfish, vengeful, hateful, lustful, cruel, possessive acquisitive, tyrants, murderers, just as humans are loving, caring, friendly, empathetic, self sacrificing, and noble.

Look over the last 150 years – many huge wars, hundreds of millions dead, maybe 70 million in the two World Wars alone. Millions more killed with famine, whether in China, Russia, India, Asia, or elsewhere. Millions more lost to disease. Remember that a century ago only smallpox had been defeated, there remained the scourge of measles, mumps, whooping cough, scarlet fever, polio, rickets, cholera, not to mention millions more lost to raw poverty. Yes, it is true that today millions of people are living far better than their forebears, but does this mean human nature has changed? That the legacy of grim news that has underpinned all the technological triumphs will somehow miraculously end?

I think not. Somewhere in the rush to greatness, and the ability to build and invent great things, we seem to have entirely lost awareness that we are both good and evil, flawed and noble, and any excess – ANY – promises difficulty, death, destruction. Nowadays we may look back and consider earlier people cautious, conservative in behavior, keeping their heads down, but maybe the truth of the matter was they were raised humble, cautious, well aware of their own dark side, and the dark sides of others. Throughout all of history the battles have remained the same – on the one had wresting survival from a hostile world, which we humans successfully did such that the world seems now to be ours, but on the other hand always, since the beginning, struggling with the much larger danger – ourselves, our conflicts and fights, and these days our narrative driven views that only we are right and all others not only flawed but even evil.

In ancient times, when we were not the apex predator, the world was above us, more powerful, and we were careful, humble, cautious, because we had to be. Now we rule the world, but it has not been the world that has brought evil, it is ourselves, plain as day, brought forth in the urgency of ideology and zealotry and certain-ness, and further complicated because the public megaphones respond to only anger, rage, froth. My sense is the greater mass of us are sick of all of it, and want to just get on with our lives, as best we can, and all of us know that only through humility will come the wisdom to regain some kind of balance.


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Screamers (Humility # 2) on fishboats

To return to Book (Front) Page: https://charliesheldon2.com/

When I was fishing on the East and Gulf Coasts a long time ago – actually a damn long time ago – there was a saying that wandered the docks. When boats tied up together in a port the guys working on the boats would talk to each other, on the dock or aboard boats or in the nearby barroom, catch up on scuttlebutt and gossip, tell lies. There was a phrase that floated around about some captains – actually at times more than some captains – and that phrase was, “He’s a screamer.” This meant that this person could not give an order without screaming the words, shouting, and often it seemed the case that no order was properly given unless it included at least two graphic insults.

There were of course more captains, usually many more captains, who were not screamers, they were level-headed men (and these days they include many women too) who had the crew’s respect, who rarely had to give orders because the crew knew what was expected and jumped to.

If you were lucky enough to be on a boat with a “good captain, meaning, someone who was all right to work for, this usually meant you were also on a boat that was well maintained, that carried the proper survival gear, where things usually worked, and where you made money. The crew members often became friends. I can name many boats which were based in New Bedford which had the same crew for two or three decades, they fished together, hunted deer together, and their captains, I am almost sure, were never screamers.

I worked for both types, and let me tell you, working for a screamer was dangerous, difficult, and downright scary at timers. The biggest issue was that screamers could not keep crew, they either fired those they did not like or drove the crew away, which meant that those of us who remained had to work twice as hard training the new guys every trip as well as doing the work. Boats with screamers in the wheelhouse gathered foc’sle lawyers down below, and disgruntled complainers, and laggards and bums.

I always figured the good captains remembered where they came from, how hard it was to learn the ropes, and had the good sense to admit when they didn’t know something, and were unafraid to ask. The good captains explained what was needed and gave others the respect to get it done, and in my experience if you treat someone as if they will do the job well, they usually do, whereas if you hover and pester the result is terrible.

The good captains were humble. They knew they did not know everything. They honored the weather and the force of the ocean. They supported the others around them and the others around them supported them. They went to work and brought back fish and an income, and they did it without breaking the crew.

Screamers? Never humble. Always trying to be on top, and better than. Never listen. Shout and scream and get angry easily. Have these ideas they have come up with which they declare must be true and refuse to admit they make no sense.

“Watch out for him, he’s a screamer.”

It feels, these days, the screamers gave taken over damn near everything, shouting their point of view and beliefs everywhere, insulting others, not listening, and most of all not learning or facing facts. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone in the wheelhouse who assumed everyone on the boat was equally intent on making an income and coming home safe. That’s the case, or was, in the fishing industry, anyway.

It seems to me that the reason it feels like we have screamers everywhere – in politics, in the media, on school playgrounds – must have something to do with forgetting that we cannot have a community unless people listen and speak carefully, meaning, are humble with themselves and others. At sea, in the microcosm world that was limited to the boat, a screamer was toxic, dangerous, and inflected the entire world. In ancient times such a person was driven from the tribe, shunned, left to wander alone. Maybe we could use a little more of that now, because with all the screaming going on, people lose sight of what they don’t know, what they need too learn, and what they should be doing to keep the community strong.


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The Fire Below….

Right now, May 24, 2021, there are at least two volcanoes erupting, one in Iceland and another in the Congo. Both eruptions are big and long lasting, producing rivers of lava. The video below is the Iceland volcano, which has been erupting for a couple of weeks. To me it is astonishing to see the molten rock flowing like water, even producing waves. Even more astonishing is the realization that beneath us lie cubic miles of hot molten magma. Here in the Pacific Northwest we live beneath a line of great volcanoes, one of which exploded 40 years ago, Mount St. Helens. It seems that these great volcano areas lie along the edge of a continental plate, such that when another great plate thrusts beneath it, huge earthquakes happen. There was an earthquake here in 2001, big enough to cause damage, shake buildings, cause higher buildings to sway back and forth, and this earthquake was nowhere the size of what everyone is predicting eventually. It seems the energy of the rock thrusting beneath other rock creates friction and heat, and magma, which will burst to the surface under pressure. There are other areas, like Yellowstone, which have been called “super volcanoes” because of the size of the magma chamber beneath.

We have evidence of huge eruptions in the past, huge. We know about huge flooding of magma across thousands of square miles of land, just as we now know of enormous glacial floods in the past, not to mention asteroid strikes, some large enough to create craters fifty miles ion diameter.

So, are these two eruptions occurring now an indication of a period of greater volcanic activity? We won’t know until after it happens.

All of which to say, again, geologic time is totally different than human lifespan time-sense. Our ability to hear eye witness accounts of events is limited to, at best, 70-90 years. Then information is second-hand, then third-hand. By the time of third and fourth hand transmission memory has been lost, the stories have changed, the great event is lost in the mists of time. We humans like to erase uncomfortable history, and we do it all the time. We seem wired to forget pain, discomfort, such that we can endure it again. There is evidence that 700 to 1,000 years ago great forest fires swept the entire U.S. West, all of it, a thousand times worse than the worst fire season we have seen to date.

When I see a video like this one here I am reminded of how little we know, and how humble we should be…..


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