Ask Prof. Steve Steve #1

Welcome to the first edition of Ask Prof. Steve Steve. Our first question comes from Jeremy Porath of Purdue.

Professor Steve Steve,

I read an article a while back about a group of Australian scientists who were attempting to bring back an extinct animal, the Tasmanian Tiger (or Thylacine) with cloning.

However, about two years ago, I read a book (What Do Martians Look Like?) that contained a rant against Jurassic Park that lead me to believe this sort of endeavor would be impossible. The relevant portions of the book and article are quoted on my LiveJournal.

I was hoping that you, or one of your colleagues, could perhaps shed some light on this and tell me which group is “correct”–or both, or neither, as the case may be.

Many thanks, Jeremy Porath, Junior, Purdue University

Jeremy, the Tasmanian Tiger cloning experiment is possible because the species only went extinct in the last 100 years. Unlike, dinosaurs Tasmanian Tiger DNA is still young enough to be potentially usable.

Our next question comes from Bruce Collins of Kobe, Japan.

Dear Prof. Steve Steve,

I want to gain at least an undergraduate’s firm comprehension of biology (and evolution)as it is being (well) taught in today’s universities, and to attempt to lead my 15-year-old son through it as well. I’m in Japan, with limited access to non-Net materials, etc.

I had been struggling through Biology (an old edition) and thought I could perhaps manage to get something like a solid grip on the subject by going through the newest addition w/ CDRom in a determined manner, with some nice biology person’s occasional advice or correction of my understanding. What do you think?

Any advice about this would be wonderful. I have never felt at ease bothering some poor professor with what now is nothing but a “hobby” kind of interest.

Yours, Bruce Collins, Kobe, Japan

This is the recommendation of my good friend, Dr. Paul R. Gross, University Professor of Life Sciences, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Collins, a better choice–for his particular purpose–than any current standard biology text book (they get carried away):

John A. Moore, Science As a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

Chapters 7 through 10 of this book are a survey of evolutionary thought, the history as well as the basics of the modern synthesis, plus enough contemporary input from molecular biology and development. It’s up to date to ~1990, which is plenty good enough, and it’s beautifully written. I used it for three successive years in a “meet the senior faculty seminar” for entering students at the Univ. of Virginia. They loved it.

Additionally, M.J. Farabee of Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale, AZ has written an online biology textbook, and you may find it a useful supplement.

If you’ve got a question about science or cultural issues around it, drop me a line at or I will not answers questions posed in comments.

Please include your name, school, town, and science course, as appropriate.