Best Of The Web
“Around ten years ago, Stewart Brand, the founder of the “Whole Earth Catalog,” and George Church, a Harvard geneticist, met in Boston. Brand had an interest in using genetic technology for conservation, and when Church said that he read and wrote DNA, Brand told me, “that got my attention.” Reading DNA had been done before, but writing DNA was something new. The two hit it off and have been collaborating on a project to resurrect the woolly mammoth, the giant Arctic elephant that went extinct ten thousand years ago. Church is a pioneer in genetic technology—he helped develop the crispr-Cas9 technology that a researcher in China recently used on the world’s first genetically edited newborns—and, in his lab, scientists are working on bringing the prehistoric pachyderm back from extinction. The process would involve adding certain mammoth genetic adaptations, like a long, dense pelt and layers of insulating fat, to the DNA of Asian elephants, which share more than ninety-nine per cent of their DNA with their extinct cousins. Church and Brand have a vision of herds of future mammoths grazing the steppes of the far north.
Church’s woolly mammoth research is just one of several de-extinction projects—there are about ten underway now—that aim to use genetics to restore lost species. In her book “The Re-Origin of Species,” the Swedish science journalist Torill Kornfeldt travels the world meeting the scientists and conservationists involved in this movement. In California, she talks with Ben Novak, a scientist obsessed with bringing back the passenger pigeon—a bird that once travelled in flocks that were so giant and dense, Novak tells her, that they “swept through the landscape, with the same effect as forest fires.” In upstate New York, a researcher is working toward restoring the American chestnut, which was decimated by blight in the late eighteen-hundreds. Until then, chestnuts were so prevalent in the eastern half of the United States that, when their white blossoms fell in the spring, the hillsides looked like they were covered in snow; in the fall, their sweet, starchy nuts served as a free, abundant harvest. At Australia’s Sea Simulator aquarium, resurrection scientists are working on coral, which faces an existential threat from the rapid warming and acidifying of ocean waters. These researchers want to help coral avoid extinction by “trying to nudge evolution,” imbuing them with traits that will allow them to survive the hotter oceans of the future.”
JJ Editor's Picks
"Not even what one might think of as the most basic tenet of any religion, a belief in the existence of God, is a prerequisite: Agnosticism is a key principle of at least one major school of Hindu philosophy."
"The presidency of any particular incumbent is relatively short... but the precedential consequences of impeaching a president without complying with the specific provisions of the Constitution “as it was written” are enduring."
"After news that a judge allegedly provided sexual favors to Bar Association president Efi Nave in exchange for her appointment, several politicians said in their responses that the Judicial Selection Committee needed to be the “Holy of Holies.”"
"Two new documentaries take on Billy McFarland and his disastrous music festival... the secret villain of this story all along: the subtle menace of social media marketing."
"Eating out, ordering in. Throw in a bagel here, a coffee there, and it all adds up. "It's definitely a challenge for people my age to save on food.""
"Popular music is shrinking. From 2013 to 2018, the average song on the Billboard Hot 100 fell from 3 minutes and 50 seconds to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds. "
"Here in the good old U.S. of A, the third annual Women's March planned for Jan. 19 is in serious trouble, thanks to irreconcilable political disagreements."
"Nature, however, with its endless cycles of death and rebirth, fascinated her. Walking in the woods, she developed a method that has become the hallmark of her poetry, taking notice simply of whatever happens to present itself."
"Modern parents haven’t stopped playing favorites; they’ve just stopped doing it openly. Though few parents today will admit they have a favorite child, studies indicate that about two-thirds of parents do."
"The first science-based diet that tackles both the poor food eaten by billions of people and averts global environmental catastrophe has been devised."
"Sphen and Magic looked like they would make great, diligent, careful egg-warming parents. They made the biggest nest, and they sat on it constantly."
"How YMHAs, followed by synagogue-centers, and finally JCCs have tried—in different ways—to balance Judaism and Jewishness, by bringing Jews together in intellectual, spiritual, and physical pursuits"