Scientists Seek to Resurrect the Extinct Aurochs

Scientists Seek to Resurrect the Extinct Aurochs

Scientists Seek to Resurrect the Extinct Aurochs

A tall, heavy beast with long, forward-curving horns faced down a smaller bull. Its head was held high as if in challenge. The smaller animal seemed to recoil in submission. Even the cave lion, the largest of predators, looked unlikely to challenge the dominant bull. Behind them a herd of giant deer ran from unseen danger.

This scene was depicted in a painting on a cavern wall at Lascaux, France, 17,000 years ago. Megaloceros, the giant deer in the background, are extinct. The cave lion is extinct. The bulls — a species called aurochs (pronounced “aur-ox”) — have disappeared. Their genes, however, are still present in modern cattle, and scientists have been trying to bring them back to life.

The Taurus Program, a partnership of ecologists, geneticists, historians and cattle breeders backed by Stichting Taurus, a Dutch nonprofit, is seeking to re-create the aurochs by crossbreeding modern cattle in a process known as back breeding. Laboratory-based genetic engineering is not required.

 

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