MadSci Network: Cell Biology

Re: cloning the extinct bird?

Date: Thu Feb 19 13:07:56 2004
Posted By: Paul Szauter, Staff, Mouse Genome Informatics
Area of science: Cell Biology
ID: 1076903015.Cb

Dear Scott,

Interestingly, there was a news story that made the rounds a while ago about approval for a 
project to clone the huia, an extinct bird:

There is a nicely-written "recipe" for doing this:

Unfortunately, this doesn't seem likely to succeed anytime soon. As far as I can discover, no bird 
has yet been cloned, although a company was claiming that it was going to clone chickens on a 
massive scale in 2001-2002. There have so far been no announcements of success at cloning 
chickens. This doesn't bode well for the passenger pigeon, as living cells from chickens are 
available in abundance and there is considerable commercial interest in cloning chickens. This is 
just to say that cloning a new species that is different from ones that have already been cloned is 

An endangered mammalian species was cloned using a surrogate that was a different species:

So, to address your questions:

Q1. Is it possible to clone the extinct passenger pigeon?

A1. Theoretically yes, but in practical terms at the present time, probably not.

Q2. If it is possible to clone the passenger pigeon how might you clone it?

A2. See the recipe for the huia above.

Q3. The Mourning Dove is closest looking creature to the extinct passenger pigeon. Is it possible 
that the extinct passenger pigeon still has genome?

A3. The Passenger Pigeon had a genome similar to, but distinct from, the Mourning Dove and 
other birds.

Q4. Do bird feathers have DNA in them? Where could you find the extinct passenger pigeon 
genome? Does the passenger pigeon have to be alive to have genome?

A4. Mature feathers are made of keratin (a protein) and don't have DNA in them. Growing 
feathers have living cells and blood circulation in them. Please see:

For images:

A discussion of sampling DNA from museum specimens:

So DNA can be obtained from non-living specimens. The quality of the DNA depends on the 
method of preservation (freezing is good, formaldehyde is bad).

Q5. Would the Mourning Dove genome come in handy in cloning the extinct passenger pigeon? 
Can the genome of the Mourning Dove fill in any of the missing parts of the passenger pigeon 
genome? Would you need some of the Mourning Dove DNA to help clone the extinct  passenger 

A5. If you couldn't get the complete genomic sequence of the passenger pigeon from museum 
specimens, you might be able to get away with filling in with Mourning Dove sequence. Michael 
Crichton proposed this in "Jurassic Park," filling in gaps in dinosaur sequence with frog or reptile 
sequence. The problem is, you might have a bit of sequence that was very important to the 
passenger pigeon and was not like any sequence in the Mourning Dove.

From your additional message sent separately:

Q6. I know that DNA is found in bird bones. If there is DNA in feathers what would the DNA in 
the feathers be used for? Is DNA found in the birds legs? Is DNA found in the birds beak also? In 
cloning birds or just knowing where the DNA is found in birds?

A6. DNA is found in all of the cells of a bird. Mature feathers and the beak are not made of cells, 
and therefore wouldn't have nuclei or DNA. The bird's legs have muscle, skin, blood vessels, skin 
and other cellular tissue, so they would have DNA.

Q7. Does a skin of an extinct passenger pigeon considered to be DNA or dead DNA?

A7. DNA is neither alive nor dead. DNA from a dead animal that was poorly preserved is 
chemically degraded and can't be fully replicated (copied) using molecular biology techniques.

Please see our glossary:


Paul Szauter
Mouse Genome Informatics

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