Princeton Nature

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An insider's view on bringing extinct species back to life


Apr 6, 2015
6 x 9.25 in.
16 color illus. 2 halftones. 9 line illus.
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Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. In How to Clone a Mammoth, Beth Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in “ancient DNA” research, walks readers through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction. From deciding which species should be restored, to sequencing their genomes, to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild, Shapiro vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used—today—to resurrect the past. Journeying to far-flung Siberian locales in search of ice age bones and delving into her own research—as well as those of fellow experts such as Svante Paabo, George Church, and Craig Venter—Shapiro considers de-extinction’s practical benefits and ethical challenges. Would de-extinction change the way we live? Is this really cloning? What are the costs and risks? And what is the ultimate goal?

Using DNA collected from remains as a genetic blueprint, scientists aim to engineer extinct traits—traits that evolved by natural selection over thousands of years—into living organisms. But rather than viewing de-extinction as a way to restore one particular species, Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. For example, elephants with genes modified to express mammoth traits could expand into the Arctic, re-establishing lost productivity to the tundra ecosystem.

Looking at the very real and compelling science behind an idea once seen as science fiction, How to Clone a Mammoth demonstrates how de-extinction will redefine conservation’s future.

Ideas Podcast, Episode 6: Can we bring extinct species back?

Awards and Recognition

  • Winner of the 2016 PROSE Award in Popular Science & Popular Mathematics, Association of American Publishers
  • 2016 Gold Medal Winner in Science, Independent Publisher Book Awards
  • Winner of the 2016 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, Young Adult Science Books
  • Shortlisted for the 2016 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, Phi Beta Kappa Society
  • One of The Independent’s 6 Best Books in Science 2015
  • Finalist for the 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science & Technology
  • One of Flavorwire’s 10 Must-Read Academic Books for 2015
  • One of CultureLab’s Best Reads from 2015
  • One of Science News’ Favorite Books of 2015