Not so dead as a dodo: Extinct bird could be brought back to life after genome sequenced

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Dodos have been extinct since 1681, just 100 years after the 3ft-tall bird was discovered in Mauritius. But now, with scientists poised to publish the DNA of a specimen in the Natural History Museum of Copenhagen, the birds may be on the verge of a stunning return to Earth after nearly 400 years. The birds are one of the most well-known examples of human-induced extinction.

But as well as being hunted by humans, dogs, cats and pigs also preyed on the birds, with sailors bringing the predators with them as they during their expeditions of the Indian Ocean.

Prof Beth Shapiro, from the University of California, told a Royal Society webinar that the DNA of a specimen is due to be published soon, and has confirmed that genome has in fact been sequenced.

She said: “The dodo genome is entirely sequenced because we sequenced it. It’s not been published yet, but it does exist and we’re working on it right now.

“I tried for a long time to get DNA from a specimen that’s in Oxford.

“We got a tiny little bit of DNA…but that particular sample didn’t have sufficiently well-preserved DNA.”

But she warned that the task ahead may not be so easy.

She added: “So we have a very high quality, high coverage, dodo genome which will soon be published.

“Mammals are simpler.

“If I have a cell and it’s living in a dish in the lab and I edit it so that it has a bit of dodo DNA, how do I then transform that cell into a whole living, breathing, actual animal?

“The way we can do this is to clone it, the same approach that was used to create Dolly the Sheep, but we don’t know how to do that with birds because of the intricacies of their reproductive pathways.”

The last confirmed dodo sighting was in 1662 after Dutch sailors first spotted the species just 64 years earlier in 1598.

It had evolved without any predators and lived in Mauritius in relative isolation.

Even though dodos were birds, they could not fly, despite its small useless wings.

The last known remains of dodos are kept at various museums across the world.

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A dodo foot is kept at the in the British Museum, Copenhagen has a dodo head.

Mike Benton, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol, told The Telegraph: “The dodo is a popular bird and it’s one you can make a case for bringing back.

“If you bring T-Rex back to life maybe that wouldn’t be the popular thing as it would run riot and cause havoc.

“But bringing back something that wasn’t so ancient would be much more feasible. The dodo has a known habitat that is readily available.”

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