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Helium-3/ Cloning Extinct Animals

Date Saturday - August 8, 2015
Host Richard Syrett
Guests Chris OrcuttKevin Campbell

In the first half, Richard Syrett was joined by author Chris Orcutt, who knows a thing or two about helium-3—it's featured heavily in his newest novel. He discussed how helium-3 can be used in a nuclear fusion reaction to produce vast quantities of energy, generating incredible power while producing no nuclear waste. But there's one catch, it’s extremely rare on Earth, but abundant on the moon.

Helium-3 is an isotope of common helium and is a viable source for fusion because it is missing one neutron, Orcutt explained. Unlike fission reactions, which create nuclear waste and are only 35% to 40% efficient, fusion with helium-3 produces a profound amount of energy with harmless by-products (helium and hydrogen), he continued, noting how the electricity comes directly from plasma produced in the reaction.

According to Orcutt, helium-3 is too rare on earth for researchers to perform large scale experiments with the technology. The moon, however, has the isotope in abundance. The greatest concentrations are within ten feet of the lunar surface, he revealed. A single space shuttle payload could fuel the United States for an entire year, he estimated. Orcutt outlined a possible conspiracy between the US government and fossil fuel industry to prevent the production of helium-3. He also pointed out how China's space program is centered around obtaining helium-3.


During the second half, Kevin Campbell, a molecular biologist from the University of Manitoba, talked about efforts to clone extinct animals like the woolly mammoth (related article). Campbell suggested mammoths might roam the planet once again due to exponential breakthroughs in DNA extraction techniques, advances in gene editing and cloning technologies, as well as the discovery of a well-preserved mammoth specimen in Siberia in 2013. The Siberian mammoth accidentally stumbled into water and became entombed in ice, he reported.

Campbell covered some of the challenges facing scientists attempting to clone extinct animals. Their DNA is broken in multiple places so acquiring the pristine cell necessary for cloning is likely impossible, he explained. Without an intact cell, true cloning of a mammoth is probably out of the question, Campbell continued. Instead, researchers would likely take the DNA from the preserved mammoth specimen and insert it into an Asian elephant egg to create a hybrid, he said.

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