Resurrect Extinct Galapagos Tortoise with Genetical Resurrection Methods – Clarksville Science Centre
Tortoises are famous for living very long lives and the giants on Galapagos and Floreana Islands were even more impressive for their size which made them be a constant reminder of the existence of creatures such as dinosaurs. After about a year, the research team, which is working under the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, hopes to start a breeding plan to produce animals similar to those that originally lived on the two islands.
Last Galapagos Tortoise died in 2012
Lonesome George was the last tortoise on the Galapagos Island of Pinta in 1971. He was discovered by researchers who moved him to Santa Cruz Island, where he spent his remaining 41 years. Despite repeated attempts, Lonesome George was unsuccessful at mating and passing on his species’ genes. He was the last of his kind.
George’s death was regarded by conservationists as an example of the fragility of certain species, and was used as an argument for increasing efforts to preserve habitats for rare animals. Now, researchers think that the Pinta tortoise is not lost forever. Tortoises living on Isabela Island, located south of Pinta, were discovered in 2008.
But scientists are making one final effort to bring the species of Galápagos Island tortoise back from the dead, and the team of experts from Yale University might have found the DNA they need to save the turtles from being lost forever. In a best-case scenario, they believe that they could at least partially restore the Pinta and Floreana tortoise populations within the next five to 10 years.
These tortoises can extend their neck and float on their backs. It is the tortoise that lived on Floreana Island and was last seen by Charles Darwin. But, sadly, with the demise of Lonesome George – the last remaining specimen – three years ago, the species became extinct. The largest island, the Isabela Island, is now believed to be home of the largest number of tortoises. Sailors are believed to have displaced the species from Pinta to Isabela.
A genetic analysis of the tortoises discovered on Isabela Island revealed striking similarities to the DNA of the Pinta tortoise. Researchers began to wonder if they would be able to successfully recreate the extinct species of Pinta tortoise using DNA from their close cousins on Isabela Island. It was possible that some of these tortoises even shared a common ancestor with Lonesome George.
Researchers are planning on breeding the tortoises found on Isabela Island to exhibit as much Pinta DNA as possible. Bred in captivity, these new tortoises could once again wander Pinta Island, hopefully setting up new populations. Researchers believe that it will take just a few generations before the new tortoises would be near identical matches to Lonesome George.
The Pinta tortoise helped spread seeds around the Island, keeping it lush and diverse. With new tortoise populations looking like a real possibility, the Island could once again bloom and become a shining example for the wonder of evolution.
Scientists plan to breed the tortoises from Isabela that are as genetically close as possible to the original Pinta species.
If that captive-breeding effort is a success, the hope is that new tortoise populations can once again wander Pinta within a decade and within a few generations they’ll be near genetic matches for animals like George.
That’s a boon not only for the Pinta species, but also for the island itself, which benefits from tortoises, as the slow-movers disperse seeds that help the ecosystem thrive.