posted on Nov, 26 2013 @ 08:02 PM
With species now vanishing at 1,000 times the rate they did before humans became the big threat to life on Earth, scientists and philosophers from
around the world met this month at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., to discuss the best way to combat what amounts to the sixth great
extinction event in the planet’s history.
Although uncomfortable with the notion that conserving endangered species now amounts to an exercise in “triage,” most of those at the conference
agreed that some priorities are required, given all the time, energy and money being directed toward conservation. The issue now is how to set those
To that end, Arne Mooers, a biologist at Simon Fraser University, presented a paper called “Are some species more equal than others?” The title
was purposely Orwellian because Prof. Mooers argues that evolutionary isolation – as determined by a measure called phylogenetic diversity – may
be the best way to assess the value of a species. The Globe and Mail talked to him about why.
Is applying phylogenetic diversity to conservation a new idea?
Not entirely. In 1982, the celebrated biologist E.O. Wilson stated that the aim of conservation should be to preserve all the information contained in
all the DNA of all species currently alive on Earth. But the notion now is a practical one – to preserve those species that carry the most
information on evolutionary history in their DNA.
How would it work?
Biologists use diagrammatic trees to depict relatedness between species and groups of species based on divergences from common ancestors. Sometimes
it’s the branching pattern that’s of interest – who’s related to whom – but increasingly we pair fossil information with DNA-sequence data
to understand timing and rates of divergence; in effect, the length of these branches.
Phylogenetic diversity is the total amount of independent evolution represented by adding branch lengths for a set of species. For all 9,993 species
of living birds, for example, that’s about 77 billion years’ worth of information; for the 575 of these currently at risk of extinction, it’s
about 2.7 billion years. The next step is deciding what that means from a conservation
Every day I read something about a species in danger or one that just went extinct. With the climate changing it is inevitable that this will become
more common. The research being done in cloning and the push to preserve these animals DNA to one day be resurrected will not only be important in
preserving the diversity of life but it may also be key to our own survival.
I am not talking about cloning humans but I am talking about the medical discoveries in nature. For example the research into cancer we have long
known sharks have a natural defense to cancer and learning how that works may lead to treatment for ourselves the medical field is already using
equipment that mimics their scales
because bacteria does not grow well on it. They
are studying whale’s ability to produce myoglobin because it provides extra oxygen muscles which may lead to new treatments in humans. The list goes
on and on. If we lose the animals we also lose much more.
Personally I think it is too late to prevent the coming extinctions now we are faced with a triage scenario.
Extinct Animals in the Last 100 Years
5 Medical Breakthroughs We Owe to Animals
Fresh effort to clone extinct animal
The bucardo became extinct in 2000, but cells from the last animal were frozen in liquid nitrogen.
In 2003, a cloned calf was brought to term but died a few minutes after birth.
Now, the scientists will test the viability of the female bucardo's 14-year-old preserved cells.
The bucardo, or Pyrenean ibex, calf born through cloning was an historic event: the first "de-extinction", in which a lost species or sub-species
The Aragon Hunting Federation signed an agreement with the Centre for Research and Food Technology of Aragon (CITA) in Zaragoza to begin preliminary
work on the cells from the last animal, named Celia.
One of the scientists behind the cloning effort, Dr Alberto Fernandez-Arias, told BBC News: "At this moment, we are not initiating a 'bucardo
recovery plan', we only want to know if Celia's cells are still alive after having been maintained frozen during 14 years in liquid nitrogen."
In addition to this in vitro work, they will also attempt to clone embryos and implant them in female goats.