My Goodreads review: “How to Clone a Mammoth”

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-ExtinctionHow to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary: It might be impossible to clone a mammoth, or, for that matter, to clone any other extinct animal. And it might not be necessary.

The author leads the reader through the problems and reasons why it might not be a good idea even to try in some cases. For example, some animals have gone extinct due to changes in their habitats, and unless these habitats have been restored, the resurrected animals would have no place to go. In addition, DNA is fragile and hard to come by for long-extinct species like mammoth.

Shapiro also considers the ways to solve some of these problems along with the benefits from de-extinction. If mammoths were reintroduced, they might transform the tundra into rich grasslands. Mammoths would also trample away the snow in winter. Snow acts as insulation from the cold air, so the permafrost would be frozen harder and thus be protected from melting by a warming climate — and permafrost has a storehouse of greenhouse gasses locked up in it. Melting permafrost would be a disaster.

But rather than de-extinct species, existing species could be engineered to be so much like them that they can serve the same ecological purpose and even look a lot alike. We can change elephants in a way to bring back something just like a mammoth.

Shapiro doesn’t oppose de-extinction, but she knows it’s going to be hard to do and wants readers to understand what’s involved and what the alternatives are. She fulfills her goal to teach and to share her cautious enthusiasm.

P.S. I read this book as research for a novel. No spoilers, though.

— Sue Burke

View all my reviews

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