A journalist with over 20 years of experience writing food, travel and culture pieces. I’ve written for The New York Post, LIFE magazine and done audio recordings for NPR affiliate Tom Wilmer’s Journeys of Discovery.
Fresh out of college, I humped New York city subway lines as a stringer for The New York Times’ Metro desk and read the wire as a foreign correspondent for Japan’s Kyodo News.
I spent a year writing a TED eBook called The New Gods of Creation—The Quest to Resurrect Extinct Animals and Save Endangered Species that covers de-extinction—the process by which technological advances have enabled researchers to clone extinct animals by marrying DNA found in museum specimens with genetic material from their still-living cousins.
Opening chapter sample…
Blair Hedges hired a helicopter last year to taxi him 3,500 feet up to the top of one of Haiti’s last remaining cloud forests. He arrived armed with a portable cooler, just like one you’d fill with soda and sandwiches, and within 24 hours had packed it to the brim with endangered frogs. The mountaintop which Hedges traveled to is inaccessible by foot or four-wheel drive and is among the last 1% of tropical forest that’s left of Haiti’s once majestic Massif de la Hotte, a crooked mountain range located in the southwestern part of the economically impoverished country of nearly 10 million people.
Many of the frogs stored away in the cooler have been gathered for future cloning. Others collected on this trip will be sent to the Philadelphia Zoo’s captive breeding program. But time is running out for the 50,000 other species that make up Haiti’s rich assortment of flora and fauna, and Hedges, a biologist from Penn State, knows it.
“When people think of Haiti they think of the earthquake,” he says, referring to the 7.0 magnitude tremor that decimated the island nation in 2010. “The country is really at the forefront of mass extinction. It’s going to be the first big country to go, and it’s going to go soon.”
On this expedition, Hedges spots a new species with his headlamp, a tiny little thing lying in the dew-laden grass that chirps like a cricket. Unlike its other land frog cousins who lay white eggs, Hedges says this one lays green eggs, and since this frog has yet to be officially named he affectionately refers to it as the Dr. Seuss frog, after the well-known children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham.
The cloud forest surrounding Hedges is an open-air museum where in the past three years he’s procured samples of about half of Haiti’s estimated 100 frog species. He believes he’s the first biologist to have landed in this particular forest, and when he picks up an amphibian he’s sure he’s the first to have held it.
Once he’s back at his lab in the United States he’ll extract tissue from the Dr. Seuss frog and other specimens and place them in a test tube about an inch long that then goes into a bath of antibiotics and antimycotics that will protect the cells from possible infection. He’ll also add cryoprotectant chemicals that prevent ice crystals from forming and bursting the cells apart. Then he’ll slowly cool the tissue at a rate of 1° C per minute. After a few hours Hedges will immerse the test tubes in -200° liquid nitrogen, which preserve the cells for about 200 years. Over time the liquid dissipates, but like any good bartender he says he’ll top it off whenever it gets low, usually every few months. Later the cells can be cultured, or grown, in a Petri dish, and the resulting “cell lines” can be banked or, when the technology catches up, used to clone the tiny Dr. Seuss frog…