It turns out that nine out of 156 tortoises living in captivity are directly related to the Chelonoidis elephantopus, a Galapagos tortoise species that whalers hunted to extinction in the 19th century.
A team of international scientists, headed by Yale University researchers, found the links when they compared the DNA of the living tortoises with genetic material gathered from C. elephantopus bones stored in museums.
Scientists believe that just four generations of selective breeding could reverse-engineer the extinct ancestor.
“Theoretically, we can rescue a species that has gone extinct,’’ said Adalgisa Caccone, senior research scientist in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale. “Our lab calls it the Lazarus project.”
The only catch: Given the mating timeline of tortoises, that would take about 100 years.