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Researchers Extract DNA from Eggs of Extinct Birds

March 10, 2010

Could extinct birds, including the massive elephant birds that were once native to Madagascar, be resurrected using DNA extracted from fossilized egg shells?

Not necessarily, say the researchers who have successfully done just that. But it does give paleontologists a new way to explore ancient creatures that no longer roam the Earth.

The international research team, which was led by Dr. Michael Bunce of Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, announced on Wednesday that they had successfully recovered genetic material from the inner membranes of eggshells from various species. Those species include a type of emu that lived over 19,000 years ago, a moa, a New Zealand duck, an Australian owl, and the aforementioned elephant bird.

According to a March 10, 2010 AFP article, Bunce’s team was only able to retrieve 250 base pairs of DNA from each sample. He emphasizes that the point of their work was “to show that it can be done. We didn’t go out to get very long pieces of DNA. That’s obviously the next step.”

However, that doesn’t mean that readers should expect to see the 10-foot-tall, 800-plus-pound elephant bird to make a return anytime soon.

As Bunce told the AFP’s Richard Ingham in a phone interview, “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.”

The study was published this week in the leading scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Image Caption: Elephant bird eggs. Courtesy Wikipedia

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