Could de-extinction of dodo, wooly mammoth aid conservation? : Short Wave As a leading expert on paleogenomics, Beth Shapiro has been hearing the same question ever since she started working on ancient DNA: "The only question that we consistently were asked was, how close are we to bringing a mammoth back to life?"

In the second part of our conversation (listen to yesterday's episode), Beth tells Short Wave co-host Aaron Scott that actually cloning a mammoth is probably not going to happen.

"But there are technologies that will allow us to resurrect extinct traits, to move bits and pieces of genes that might be adapted to a large animal like an elephant living in the Arctic."

That is what companies like Colossal Biosciences and Revive and Restore are trying to do, with Beth's help. And she is leading the effort on another iconic extinct species, the dodo.

In today's episode, how Beth Shapiro's initial work mapping the dodo genome laid the groundwork to bring back a version of it from extinction, and how the knowledge scientists gain from de-extinction could help protect species under threat now.

Could de-extincting the dodo help struggling species?

Could de-extincting the dodo help struggling species?

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The Summers Place Dodo skeleton dates from around the 16th century. Leon Neal/Getty Images hide caption

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Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Summers Place Dodo skeleton dates from around the 16th century.

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Beth Shapiro has been getting the same question ever since she started her research on ancient DNA, more than two decades ago.

"Whenever we would publish a paper, it didn't matter what the paper was, what the animal was, how excited we were about the ecological implications of our results or anything like that. The only question that we consistently were asked was, how close are we to bringing a mammoth back to life?" she says.

Shapiro is a leading expert on paleogenomics and a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz. As we explored in yesterday's episode, she has been in the thick of the field's recent big advances.

But she still gets that question – she even published a book to try to answer it.

"I wrote a book called How to Clone a Mammoth that was basically, you can't," she told Short Wave co-host Aaron Scott.

"Once a species is gone, once it's extinct, it is not possible to bring back an identical copy of that species. But there are technologies that will allow us to resurrect extinct traits, to move bits and pieces of genes that might be adapted to a large animal like an elephant living in the Arctic."

That is exactly what companies like Colossal Biosciences and Revive and Restore are trying to do, with Beth's help. Her hope is that the technologies these de-extinction companies are developing will have applications for conservation.

As Beth sets her sights on one major conservation priority, protecting vulnerable species of birds, she's also leading the effort to resurrect another iconic animal — one she has a special relationship with.

"I happen to have a dodo tattoo," she says.

In today's episode we bring you the second part of our conversation with Beth Shapiro: How her initial work mapping the dodo genome laid the groundwork to bring back a version of it from extinction, and how the knowledge scientists gain from de-extinction could help protect species under threat now.

Beth Shapiro's most recent book, Life As We Made It, explores how humans have been reshaping nature since the very beginning.

Listen to Short Wave on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Want to hear more about ancient critters? Email us at shortwave@npr.org!

This episode was produced by Thomas Lu and Berly McCoy, edited by Gabriel Spitzer and fact-checked by Anil Oza. Josh Newell was the audio engineer.