Hendrik Poinar: Bring back the woolly mammoth!

Today’s featured TED Talk was filmed at TEDxDeExtinction, a TEDx event held this March that brought 25 experts from across the arts and sciences to National Geographic headquarters to discuss "de-extinction" — the science of bringing extinct species back from the dead. 

In this talk, geneticist Hendrik Poinar tells us about something that seems like it could only be a dream: the quest to engineer a creature that looks very much like our furry friend, the woolly mammoth. But the first step, to sequence the woolly genome, is nearly complete. And it’s huge.

But TEDxDeExtinction was about more than just the mammoth.
There was talk of reviving the long-gone passenger pigeon, of investigating extinct frogs whose eggs hatched in their mouth, and a look into the beautiful photography of one of National Geographic's prized photographers.

For a complete round-up of the event, read our post, Frogs giving birth through the mouth, DNA retrieved from the frost, and why Jurassic Park just won’t happen: 5 takeaways from TEDxDeExtinction”  or check out the TED Blog’s coverage of the event. 

And don’t forget to watch Hendrik’s talk up there — it’s pretty awesome.

Here’s to 60 years of trying to pronounce “deoxyribonucleic acid” — 5 TEDx Talks on DNA


(Photo credit: Flickr user Saynine)

The world recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the complex cellular instructions known as DNA. Currently, scientists across the globe are doing a lot more than showing off computer-generated spinning double helix modelsthey are using DNA to do almost unbelievable things — like create tailor-made microbes and resurrected mammoths.

Below, 5 talks on the wonder of deoxyribonucleic acid.

Sex, evolution, and innovation: Frances Arnold at TEDxUSC
We all know that organisms combine genes to create offspring. But what if we could harness those self-replicating processes and make them work for us, asks scientist Frances Arnold. At TEDxUSC, Arnold takes us through a world of possibilities, from testing drugs on microbes to aiding cancer drugs with engineered cells.

What does your genome reveal about you?: Gilean McVean at TEDxWarwick
The first sequenced human genome took years of work and billions of dollars to complete. Today, a person’s genome can be sequenced overnight for a just few thousand dollars. At TEDxWarwick, geneticist Gilean McVean examines the consequences of this technological advance and what it means for our understanding of disease.

How to bring a mammoth back to life: Beth Shapiro at TEDxDeExtinction
Bringing ancient mammoths back to life is assuredly a daunting task, but a major roadblock has been the lack of a complete mammoth genetic sequence due to deterioration over time. Scientist Beth Shaprio reveals the novel approaches that she and her colleagues are taking to revive ancient mammoths.

Creating algae factories for sustainable fuel: Michiel Mathijs at TEDxGhent
In this short and sweet talk from TEDxGhent, Michiel Mathijs elaborates on his plan to take species of algae, one of the most common life forms on the planet, and biologically engineer them to produce oil for fuel. Along the way, Mathijs addresses concerns over bioengineering, describing scientists as not composers, but the “DJs of life,” mixing and matching genetic material.

Genetically evolved technology: Luke Bawazer at TEDxWarwick
Inspired by evolution in the natural world, Luke Bawazer’s work incorporates a type of “synthetic DNA” to test and improve materials like computer chips. According to Bawazer, this type of man-made evolution might one day lead to products that naturally adapt to suit the needs of consumers.

Stewart Brand talks about reviving the passenger pigeon at TED2013

Bringing back extinct species — this Friday, TEDxDeExtinction discusses how we’ll do it and whether we should

An endangered species is like a very sick person: It needs help, desperately. An extinct species is like a dead person: beyond help, beyond hope

Or at least it has been, until now. For the first time, our own species—the one that has done so much to condemn those other 795 to oblivion—may be poised to bring at least some of them back.

National Geographic, "Species Revival: Should We Bring Back Extinct Animals?"

This process, the process of bringing an extinct species back from once-certain oblivion, is called de-extinction. As reported on the TED Blog, "The first de-extinction happened on the bucardo, a type of wild mountain goat. The last bucardo died out in 2000, but its ear was preserved, and in 2009 DNA from the ear was planted in a mother goat. The engineered bucardo died after 10 minutes due to a defect in its lungs.”

But is there hope for de-exintction to continue? With other animals? New Techniques? Could we someday see the wooly mammoth in the flesh? At TED2013, scientist Stewart Brand gave a introduction to the possibilities, and now he wants us to talk about it.

This month, along with his foundation Revive & Restore, with the support of TED and TEDster Ryan Phelan, and in partnership with National Geographic Society, Brand is convening a day-long conference — called TEDxDeExtinction — to showcase the prospects of bringing extinct species back to life, along with a discussion of the ethical issues involved.

On Friday, March 15, 2013, TEDxDeExtinction will bring 25 renowned experts together at National Geographic headquarters to contribute ideas to these four sessions:

  • WHO:  Who among extinct species should be revived first?
  • HOW: How can extinct species be revived?
  • WHY AND WHY NOT: Should we bring back extinct species?
  • WILD AGAIN: Could resurrected species ever be wild again?

Speakers include:

  • George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and director of PersonalGenomes.org, the world’s only open-access information source for the human genome .
  • President of the American Ornithologists’ Union Susan Haig, whose specialization is working with species facing the brink of extinction.
  • Director of Genetics at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation and Research Oliver Ryder, who oversees research efforts in cell culture and cryobanking, cytogenetics, population genetics, conservation breeding, evolution and systematics, and applications of genomics technologies to conservation efforts for managed and wild populations of threatened and endangered species.
  • New York Times, National Geographic, and winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Award journalist Carl Zimmer.

This day-long event will be webcast live on March 15 on the TEDx Livestream: http://new.livestream.com/tedx/DeExtinction and at http://nationalgeographic.com/deextinction.

To attend in person, event tickets can be purchased at the TEDxDeExtinction website.