Sunday book review – How to clone a mammoth by Beth Shapiro

indexThis is an interesting read. I like learning things and I learned a lot here.

There is quite a lot of chatter about de-extinction – the process of bringing extinct species back to life through some genetic wizardry. Think Jurassic Park with proper science! It sounds far-fetched, and it isn’t imminent, but this book tells you a lot, in a very readable way, about how far-fetched it is.  And I guess the answer is ‘Possible in theory, difficult and unproven as yet in practice’.

I came across this idea when writing A Message from Martha as the Passenger Pigeon is often regarded as a candidate for such treatment – particularly last year in the centenary of the bird’s extinction, when it was, in relative terms, quite newsworthy. The Passenger Pigeon, therefore, steps and flutters in and out of this book to illustrate some of the challenges.

But as always, it’s the mammals that get top billing. How about getting some mammoths back? Wouldn’t that be fun? Well maybe it would, but this is a good lay-person’s guide to what would be involved technically as far as breeding up ‘real’ ‘new’ mammoths.

Shapiro writes engagingly and clearly and ranges across genetics, ecology, ethics and politics. I’m not sure I agree with her about everything but I am very glad she wrote this book and set out the information and thoughts so clearly.

How to clone a mammoth by Beth Shapiro is Published by Princeton University Press.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will also be published by Bloomsbury at the end of July.

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