The Return of the Aurochs — Along With Some Baggage

David Cassuto

Ever seen an aurochs?  Ever heard of one?  Answers to the latter query may vary but the response to the former is assuredly “no.”  The aurochs is an ancestor of domestic cattle and went extinct in 1627.  Though domesticated 8,000 years ago, it also lived in the wild in much of Europe until the end of the Middle Ages.

Today, there is an effort to bring back the aurochs using a technique called “back-breeding.”  Here’s how they hope it will go:

Scientists will first scour old aurochs bone and teeth fragments from museums in order to glean enough genetic material to be able to recreate its DNA. Researchers will then compare the DNA to that of modern European cattle to determine which breeds still carry the creature’s genes and create a selective-breeding program to reverse thousands of years of evolution. If everything goes as planned, each passing generation will more closely resemble the ancient aurochs.