Russian Science

Every time I think I’ve run out of things to write about, some idiotic new idea pops into my head.

I was reading an article in the New York Times this morning about the possibility of creating a wooly mammoth. Technically, it’s not cloning because the proposed technique wouldn’t use extracted mammoth DNA; rather, it would compare the extracted mammoth DNA to the DNA in the egg of an African elephant, and change the elephant DNA to match the mammoth’s. Anyway, the article mentioned that there have been Russian attempts over the years to get well preserved mammoth eggs to gestate, but they’ve failed because the eggs weren’t viable.

This got me thinking. How did the Russian scientists not realize that eggs that had been frozen for ten thousand years were no longer viable? I don’t think it would even occur to an American geneticist to try such a long shot experiment. Can you imagine standing in front of a funding board and asking for money to thaw out some mammoth gonads and see if they’ll still produce furry baby elephants? You’d never ever get funding for that in this country. People would think you were insane. I think these Russian attempts must have taken place during the Soviet era, when there was enough bureaucracy that wild little projects could be buried in other proposals and rubber stamped.

This also brought to mind stories I’ve heard of the Russian space program in the 60’s; big dreams, crazy schemes, somewhat (i.e., rather) lax safety protocols. I have to admit, I sort of admire that “well, it does sound crazy, but let’s just try it and see what happens” mindset. Is this characteristic of Russian culture? I wonder.

Also, the idea of mammoths being brought back, of herds of pachyderms wandering the Russian steppe and the North American prairies, is just awesome.

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2 Responses

  1. but then again… while the Americans went through all that trouble to invent the space pen, the Russians just used pencils

  2. It’s true… well, as Emerson famously said, consistency is the hobgoblin of simple minds.

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