A British genetic sleuth is attempting to rediscover extinct species. In an interview with The Guardian, Colin Baillie — director of the Center for Applied Genomics at the University of Edinburgh — described working with a “band of extraordinarily dedicated scientists” to try to find out whether two Scottish geese (Nulm and Toomes) which were thought to have been eradicated from Scotland in 1894-96 are actually still alive.

They are. The scientists sequenced the DNA of one male, Toomes, who was captured in 1985, and of his mate, Nulm, who died a few years later, and found their identical DNA sequences. Perhaps there are more of the birds and they have moved to England (they are migratory) or Scotland (they spend the winters in North America). Because the genes are identical (they share 37 percent of their DNA), Baillie believes he is able to place the pair in Scotland, at least to the east of a coastal layby at the end of the East Coast of Scotland.

If that proves to be the case, then the species is almost certainly back in Scotland. If not, then the snuffing out of species like the geese was not a case of ignorance or climate change but simply a cruel death for an entire bird family (Puckicorna grosvenoriana), based on research that has long pointed to the speed with which species can drop from the skies. As Baillie pointed out in the Guardian interview, “Humans have never been so adept at changing climates.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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