Friday, 22 January 2010

Zombie cattle

Alright! Italian scientists are trying to resurrect the auroch, Bos primigenius, the wild ancestor of domestic cattle. They died out only a few hundred years ago after roaming the grasslands and forests of Europe and Asia, eating grass and scaring children. They were enormous, standing 2m high at the shoulder and weighing a ton. The last female died in Poland in 1627, so there is still plenty of intact DNA sample material floating around.

Remember those famous cave paintings in Lascaux in France? Them. For cavemen, spearing an auroch made you a bit of a superstar. These were some fearsome cows. Hitler thought so too, and supported the zoologist brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck in the early 1920s in their cross-breeding program to bring them back. Quite how they fitted into his dribbling plans for world domination, I'm not sure. Perhaps he envisioned a new ox-borne cavalry. It's unfair to cast them as Nazi cows, though. Angry and aggressive, maybe, but in a non-specific way. The results of the program - Heck cattle - are still around. There are a couple of thousand scattered around the world and I saw some at Edinburgh Zoo last year.

Anyway. Why I'm excited about this is because it's a step closer to bringing back the mammoth. That's what scientists should be doing. Mice with human ears on their backs are all very well, but bring me woolly rhinos and saber-tooths, get me glyptodonts and gomphotheres. And hurry up. I can't wait forever.

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