Bring Back the Vikings: Ancient DNA

Sad but true: attempts to use the DNA of extinct species to resurrect lost-long creatures—the quagga, the wooly mammoth and of course those Jurassic Park dinosaurs—hasn’t exactly worked (yet?), so I have a proposal. Scientists who study ancient DNA should abandon their current projects and focus on bringing back the one extinct life-form that would spice up modern life without, you know, leading to rampaging velociraptors: Vikings.

Extracting ancient DNA is tricky, what with modern DNA so ubiquitous. You risk contaminating your Neanderthal genes with, say, the genes of your grad student (and we all know how careless grad students are about leaving their genes lying around). But scientists in Denmark say they were really, really careful when they exhumed ten Viking skeletons, dating from about AD 1,000, from a burial site on the Danish island of Funen. Wearing protective suits, they removed teeth from the Vikings’ jaws at the moment the skeletons were unearthed, extracted DNA, and did all their analysis under carefully-controlled conditions to avoid contamination.

According to their report, being posted tonight on the Website of the journal PLoS One, they succeeded: the ancient DNA they extracted shows no evidence of contamination with the modern kind, Jørgen Dissing and colleagues at the University of Copenhagen say.

Sure, quaggas are cute and mammoths are majestic, but let’s be frank: think how much more fun it would be to clone Vikings. You know, even hunkier versions of, say, Viggo Mortensen (American mom, Danish dad).