London, January 18 (ANI): Reports indicate that there are plans for the giant aurochs, which were the ancestors of domestic cattle, to be bred back from extinction.
Aurochs, which were huge cattle with sweeping horns that once roamed the forests of Europe, have not been seen for nearly 400 years.
The last animal disappeared from the British Isles in the Iron Age and the breed was declared extinct in 1627 after a female died in the forests of Poland.
Aurochs are depicted in ochre and charcoal in paintings found on the walls of cave galleries such as those at Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain.
Caesar described them in The Gallic Wars as being "a little below the elephant in size" and a favorite hunting prey for wild Germanic tribesmen.
Now, Italian scientists are hoping to use genetic expertise and selective breeding of modern-day wild cattle to recreate the fearsome beasts which weighed around 2,200lb and stood 6.5 feet at the shoulder.
Breeds of large cattle which most closely resemble Bos primigenius, such as Highland cattle and the white Maremma breed from Italy, are being bred with each other in a technique known as "back-breeding".
At the same time, scientists say they have for the first time created a map of the auroch's genome, so that they know precisely what type of animal they are trying to replicate.
"We were able to analyse auroch DNA from preserved bone material and create a rough map of its genome that should allow us to breed animals nearly identical to aurochs," said team leader Donato Matassino, head of the Consortium for Experimental Biotechnology in Benevento, in the southern Campania region.
"We've already made our first round of crosses between three breeds native to Britain, Spain and Italy. Now we just have to wait and see how the calves turn out," he said.
"There are a number of rare breeds that have been brought back to life in recent years, such as the Cumberland pig," said Dr Claire Barber, from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
"But our view is that what has been recreated is something that looks like the old breed, but which is not genetically the same," she added.
"You would need to interbreed animals that are very close to the auroch in their genetic make-up. The closest you could find in Britain are two semi-feral breeds: the Chillingham and the Vaynol," said Dr Barber.
"If there are breeds which maintain many of the attributes of an auroch, then it could well be feasible. It's certainly a very exciting project," she added. (ANI)