The latest Radiolab podcast is dedicated to the Galapagos Islands, the archipelago off the coast of Ecuador that inspired Charles Darwin during the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle and a "Mecca" to evoutionary biologists. Among many topics covered was the fate of Lonesome George, the last living member of the Pinta Island species of giant tortoise, who died in 2012. I was excited to hear the interview this segment featured with Dr. Gisella Caccone, in whose lab, the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, Molecular Systematics and Conservation Genetics Laboratory, I did a rotation last semester.
Gisella explained how, in recent years, tortoises on a neighboring island were found to have a high percentage of Pinta tortoise DNA, likely due to hybridization in the last few hundred years when pirates or other seafarers might have transplanted Pinta tortoises. Researchers could thus breed tortoises possessing the most Pinta DNA with each other and then select the resulting offspring with the highest percentage Pinta DNA for subsequent breeding. Within a several generations, Gisella predicted offspring could be produced with over 90% Pinta DNA. However, given the long lifespan of the tortoises, we won't see the resurrection of the Pinta tortoise in our lifespan.
Listen to the episode to learn more about cutting edge conservation science in the Galapagos.