01 June 2010
Posted in DinoDigs
It’s a great time for paleontology. I know, I’m the first guy to say “It’s always a great time for paleontology” but believe me, this time, it’s a great time for Paleontology!
In the last few weeks, we’ve made incredible leaps and bounds in our understanding of the natural world. Scientists in Canada, Australia, and Japan successfully cloned blood protein from a Siberian Wooly Mammoth, bringing us one step closer to successfully cloning an extinct animal (The Pyrenean Ibex, an extinct goat, was cloned in 2009, but did not survive.) Scientists are optimistic, some predicting oogenesis (living embryos) in the next two years, and giant fuzzy elephants in zoos in less than five years!
I know, right? But sit down, there’s more.
And, in continuing efforts, by working to reverse engineer a chicken embryo to have some of the traits of its dinosaur ancestors, paleontologists at Canada’s McGill University are hoping to create a part-chicken, part-dinosaur creature in the lab. As of last month, they’ve produced separate embryos with long tails, and teeth.
This article is really about Snuffy and Big Bird, if you think about it.
Just two weeks ago, geneticists finished decoding the DNA of the Neandertal, and found that we’re not so different, you and I. (Try saying that last part like a Bond Villain.) Ultimately, there are only 88 proteins that differ between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis.
And that's not a whole lot to split hairs over. Your DNA is a code of letters repeating over and over again in different patterns. It's a very long book, even longer that Tolstoy’s War and Peace - one of the greatest literary works of all time and a very very big book.
First Edition: 1863, by Leo Tolstoy.
To show you how close our genes are using War & Peace as the analogy, there’s a line on page 1372 of the Neanderthal version that has three different words. The rest is identical.
And he was very excited about it.
Now that we see the real differences between us and those irrepressible cavemen in the insurance commercials, we ask ourselves the question “What does it mean to be human?” and I'm inviting the world to help find the answer.
In the comment section below, voice your own opinion and contribution toward this very deep philosophical and scientific conundrum.
I say “Thumbs and the Internet.”