Comment: Ice is nice and would suffice,

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Ice is nice and would suffice,

to quote Robert Frost's poem "Fire and Ice."

A frozen baby mammoth in very good condition was found in 2007, the apparent result of some mega-cataclysm that plunged its region of the globe into sudden and permanent permafrost. (Crustal shift?) http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,288975,00.html
If samples were kept frozen, they should prove adequate for cloning. Even a half-mammoth (its genes spliced onto an elephant's) would be great to see.

There's a fascinating project underway to clone the Thylacine, aka Tasmanian Wolf. They have spliced a number of gene sequences into bacteria so that they can be ready to go when the blessed moment arrives (meaning when they think they have the entire genome and can begin stitching everything together). They're extracting DNA from a well-preserved joey (all marsupial youngsters are properly called joeys) that was stashed away while Thylacines still roamed the Earth. There's actually an outside chance they still roam, based on a few eyewitness reports from the more wild areas of Tasmania.

As you note, a lasting change from ape to human would have to involve at least two individuals for breeding purposes due to the different number and arrangement of the chromosomes. However, I am unaware of any theory that supposes an identical cluster of gene errors is created naturally multiple times in the same generation. That's because there are close to 30,000 protein encoding genes in mammals and, except for carefully controlled laboratory use of restriction enzymes and ligases, gene damage is a random, indiscriminate act.

For a such an identically mutated breeding population to appear simultaneously due to environmental factors, I think the "environment" would have to consist of an assault force of fully equipped genetic engineers (or else supernatural intervention!). If there were to be any randomness in the mutation cluster, then other mutations would occur as well, leaving most of the mutant zygotes unviable.

Genetic accidents are nearly always detrimental and only the extremely rare freak event produces a change that is advantageous and gives offspring a similar advantage if the newly changed gene is dominant. If it is recessive, future generations could only be advantaged when pairings between carriers happen to combine both recessive genes. It is certain that many advantageous genes have been wiped out before they could take root due to predation, loss of breeding options, natural calamities, etc. Thus natural evolution proceeds at a plodding pace.

All this theory, however, fails to account for the fact that splits in the phylogenetic tree have clearly occurred where the number of chromosomes has changed. Such change would not upset life forms with asexual reproduction but how about those with sexual reproduction. How were they able to breed if there were no similarly changed breeding partners?

Some life forms can reproduce both sexually and asexually, so for them, if a mutated individual ran off multiple copies of itself asexually and were at the same time fully hermaphroditic, then it and its offspring could breed with compatible individuals and carry on the change.

However, natural asexual reproduction (parthenogenesis), though sometimes claimed in the case of embarrassing pregnancy, is not known to exist in mammals, so the "copy machine effect" would not apply. In short, it remains unclear how mammals and most other vertebrates with different chromosome counts, such as horse and donkey, split into viable, fertile populations. The fact that the mule (horse-donkey hybrid) cannot breed is probably the best known example. This is because of their different gene counts. Short of each such split having been the science project of either the Almighty or some visiting genetic engineer I have no good answer to the mystery.

New Hampshire and Ecuador.