Scientists tease DNA from eggshell of extinct birds

To: <>, "'Colin Trainor'" <>
Subject: Scientists tease DNA from eggshell of extinct birds
From: "Tony Russell" <>
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2010 16:58:45 +1030
Geez, they might even be able to bring back my old mum !


-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of

Sent: Wednesday, 10 March 2010 3:02 PM
To: Colin Trainor
Subject: Scientists tease DNA from eggshell of extinct

If they bring back the Moa they'll have to  bring back Haast's Eagle to 
control it!  : D  Watch out kiwi's! 

"Colin Trainor" <> 
Sent by: 
10/03/2010 03:27 PM


[Birding-Aus] Scientists tease DNA from eggshell of extinct birds

Scientists tease DNA from eggshell of extinct birds 

*                By Richard Ingham in Paris 
*                From: AFP 
*                March 10, 2010 1:22PM 

IN a world first, scientists in Australia announced today they had 
extracted DNA from the fossilised eggshells of extinct birds, including 
iconic giants such as the moa and elephant bird. 

The achievement marks a major step towards drafting the genome of birds 
wiped out by human greed, although the scientists warn this does not mean 
an extinct species should -- or even can -- be resurrected in the style of 
Hollywood movie hit Jurassic Park.

The team, led by Michael Bunce of Murdoch University in Perth, Western 
Australia, say they isolated DNA from desiccated inner membranes in fossil 
eggshells, found in 13 locations in Australia, Madagascar and New Zealand.

Ancient genetic material was coaxed from the eggshell of the moa 
(Dinornis), a flightless cousin to the ostrich that reached up to four 
metres (13 feet) in height and was hunted to extinction by New Zealand's 
Maori by the late 18th century.

DNA was also extracted from the elephant bird (Aepyornis), like the moa 
and ostrich a species of ratite, said the study, published in the 
Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Growing up to three metres (10 feet) high, the bird was wiped out by 
European colonisation of Madagascar by 1700.

Other successes were reported using eggshells from an Australian owl and a 
New Zealand duck of unknown date. The oldest egg sample was from an emu 
(Dromaius novaehollandiae), some 19,000 years old.

But the team were unable to get DNA from far older samples in Australia, 
estimated at 50,000 years old, from an extinct megafaunal bird called 

The technique entails reducing the shell to powder, extracting the DNA 
with lab chemicals and then amplifying it using polymerase chain reaction, 
or PCR -- a standard tool used by forensic scientists, for instance, in 
getting the famous "genetic fingerprint.''

Mr Bunce said the team extracted in each case only a tiny amount of DNA -- 
just 250 base pairs, the "rungs'' on the ladder-like genetic code, and 
this is less than a fraction of one percent of the bird's genome.

"The point was proof of principle, to show that it can be done,'' he said 
in a phone interview with AFP.

"We didn't go out to get very long pieces of DNA. That's obviously the 
next step.''

Mr Bunce said the exploit would give palaeontologists a new window into 
creatures of the past.

Until now, DNA has been teased from bones -- for instance, providing most 
of the genome of the Neanderthal, our enigmatic extinct cousins -- and 
also from preserved hair.

Eggshells, overlooked as potential source material, turn out to be 
astonishingly robust at protecting DNA.

They are a tough biomineral matrix of calcium carbonate and are less prone 
than bones to infiltration by bacteria, which contaminates samples.

And they are also plentiful. Archaeological sites have yielded harvests of 
eggs plundered from nests by early humans, eager to keep a store of 
protein at hand.

It could be possible to go back further than fossilised eggs that are 
older than 19,000 years, if the shells come from a permanently cold 
environment, the scientists hope. But eggs that are completely 
"mineralised'' -- in other words, like rock -- over hundreds of thousands 
of years are not a likely option.

Could the moa, the elephant bird or the dodo, which was hunted to oblivion 
for food and hat feathers, ever walk again?

"We can reassemble the genome to get an idea of what an extinct species 
looked like. But (resurrecting it) is still in the realm of science 
fiction. It's completely hypothetical, and frankly not a debate I really 
want to have,'' said Mr Bunce.

So far, scientists have only been able to synthesise a tiny strand of DNA, 
creating around 200 artificial base pairs, he said. The human genome, by 
comparison, amounts to around three billion base pairs.

"Some researchers have inserted certain genes into living species... (but) 
this does not bring an extinct species to life,'' co-researcher Charlotte 
Oskam pointed out.

"We think, like the mammoth, that it will be possible to do extinct 
genomes using fossil eggshell but it is a huge leap to imagining we can 
clone an extinct species. Personally I think it is unethical to recreate a 
species that is extinct.''

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