Ancient Flow

Rouffignac Cave Mammoth drawing (copper etching) Via: Elfshot Gallery

Rouffignac Cave Mammoth drawing (copper etching)
Via: Elfshot Gallery

Revive & Restore, the de-extinction project of the Long Now Foundation, has proposed the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) as the initial animal to be brought back from the evolutionary beyond.

Some might think that the recent discovery of a fossilised woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) in Siberia could be an alternate choice. After all, its blood is still liquid after an possible 10,000 – 15,000 years spent in the permafrost, permanently frozen soil.

There is speculation that woolly mammoth blood might have cryoprotective features that helped the animal survive long winters by protecting cells or tissues from freezing. The blood samples have remained liquid at temperatures as low as -17 °C (1.4 °F).

Most animal blood, including that of humans, freezes at around -0.5 to -3 °C (31.1  – 26.6 °F). There are fish species in the Arctic that have been studied for the proteins that prevent their blood from freezing down to temperatures of -6 °C (23.1 °F).*

Woolly mammoths, then, would have exceeded these lower limits by a wide margin.

It’s one thing to find a fossil of unexpected extinct life (the giant Arctic camel, for example), it’s quite another to find blood and tissue of a long-extinct animal. Other samples of woolly mammoth tissue have been found before – this latest is the most intact thus far.

Still, this discovery means that cloning a mammoth is only a slightly less remote impossibility than before because of the likely degradation of the blood cells and DNA.

Another revelation with receding glaciers and permafrost: the revival of plant ecosystems that were dormant under centuries of ice. I’ll write about this tomorrow.

Broken Ice
Photo: Seagirl via Photobucket

*According a article: “The research was funded by Volkswagen, who no doubt want to find better ways of anti-freezing their cars. The natural proteins found in the fish perform far better than man-made antifreezes, which bond directly with water molecules to lower the freezing point. The proteins don’t need to bond. Their mere presence is enough to slow freezing.”


LiveScience articleDespite Mammoth Blood Discovery, Cloning Still Unlikely by Tia Ghose

Living Archive

Photo: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

Photo: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to walk among ancient trees like the giant sequoia of Yosemite Park (some over 2000 years old), or perhaps seen The Sisters grove in Lebanon (an olive tree grove estimated to be over 5000 years old), or even an old-growth forest, then you know that there’s something special about a grove of trees that has been on the planet for centuries, or longer.

The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive project aims to reverse the loss of the great trees before they are gone. Founded by a family-run nursery in Michigan, the project first succeeded in creating clones of some of the oldest, largest trees that were felled over a century ago in Humboldt County, California. Some of the stumps of these trees still produce large basal sprouts. The Archangel team took cuttings of these sprouts and after thousands of attempts, were able to grow cloned offspring of what they call ‘champion’ trees.

Champions, for the people at Archangel, are those trees which lived for over 2,000 years before being felled, and which may have particular genetic characteristics which would allow them to survive all manner of harsh conditions. The non-profit group hopes to plant champion trees around the world to help combat deforestation and its effects through the addition of super trees into existing forests and near facilities that can study the trees as they grow. Given that more and more research points to plants and trees communicating with one another in previously undiscovered ways, perhaps it isn’t far-fetched to think that having particularly strong trees in a given ecosystem might improve that system’s overall robustness.

Micropropagation process Photo: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

Micropropagation process
Photo: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

Thus far, the group has cloned 75 species of North American trees, and they are now expanding to include trees from other areas around the world.

In celebration of 2013 Earth Day, the group organized a global planting project in which thousands of volunteers planted 18 inch (45cm) cloned ancient redwood saplings in forests in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.

The mission of the tree archive, according to their web site, is to “propagate the world’s most important old growth trees before they are gone; archive the genetics of ancient trees in living libraries; and reforest the Earth with the offspring of these trees to provide the myriad of beneficial ecosystem services essential for all life forms to thrive and to fight global warming.”

Whether or not champion trees have special genetic traits which make them particularly long-lived, this seems to be a remarkable and positive undertaking that honors the interdependence of ecosystems with the great trees that still live among them.


Archangel Ancient Tree Archive website

New York Times book review of The Man Who Planted Trees, a recently published book written by Jim Robbins on Archangel co-founder Dave Milarch. It is available for purchase on the Archangel website and the usual outlets.*

Co.Exist articleAn Archive Of Ancient Tree DNA Will Help Us Clone The Ones We Destroy by Ben Schiller

Out of the Fog blog post – Reforesting Earth, one clone at a time by Chris Palmer


* There is another book by the same title which looks at famous tree planting advocates.