Could selective breeding recreate an extinct tortoise?

A century or so of careful breeding could bring an extinct Galapagos tortoise species back from the dead, scientists said this week.

Of the 15 giant tortoise sub-species found by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands in the 19th Century, four have since gone extinct. But researchers from Yale University suggest that the genetic markers from one extinct sub-species -- the Charles Island Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus galapagoensis) -- can be found in some of its surviving cousins. They say that selectively breeding and hybridizing these cousins could, eventually, recreate the once-extinct sub-species.

It won't be easy, and it won't be quick. The hybridization would take at least 3 or 4 generations, with 25 years between each generation.

But even with this time frame, the team from Yale is definitely excited to get started. Later this year they will start an "exhaustive survey" of tortoises on nearby islands to find enough to match the genetic makeup of the Charles Island Tortoise. Then the real work begins.

Obviously, this won't work for any extinct species, only sub-species that are close enough genetically to interbreed. But this research reminds us that history is a living thing, and that hope exists for even the species we have lost.

Let's wish the team -- and the tortoises -- luck, even though none of us reading about this will be around long enough to see how the whole experiment works out.