When Charles Darwin wrote about giant tortoises living on Floreana in 1835, he noted a marked decline in their population from previous years. Eleven years later, another visitor to the island declared the entire species extinct. But a fortuitous discovery has led researchers to believe that they can bring this animal back from the evolutionary grave.Although the tortoises vanished from the Floreana, a handful were preserved by the very sailors who contributed to their extinction. When they didn't need the tortoises for food, the sailors would drop the tortoises off at their whaling grounds, notably the Galapagos island of Isabela. There the Floreana tortoises interbred with the native tortoises, allowing their DNA to live on:
"The [living tortoise] samples were collected in 1994, but we had no idea what was in there because we didn't have Floreana data," said Gisella Caccone, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. "OK, now we have genotypes for 15 to 25 animals from the museums, so we did the analysis and boom!"
Sadly, the biologists won't be staging any Jurassic Park-style cloning to revive the reptile, as is being planned for a baby mammoth fossil discovered in Siberia last year. Instead, they will determine if there are enough tortoises carrying the Floreana DNA to begin a selective breeding program. Extinct Giant Tortoise Could Be Revived [LiveScience]