De-extinction..Extinction is not forever
A bird that once darkened the skies of the 19th-century U.S. no longer exists, except as well-preserved museum specimens bearing bits of DNA. An ambitious new effort aims to use the latest techniques of genetic manipulation to bring the passenger pigeon back, as North Dakotan Ben Novak, a would-be de-extinction scientist working on the Revive & Restore project at the Long Now Foundation, told the crowd at the TEDxDeExtinction event here on March 15.
“This [pigeon flock] was a biological storm that was rejuvenating resources and allowing other animals to thrive,” Novak said of the storms of Ectopistes migratorius feces that used to fall like rain on the landscape of eastern North America. Plus, with the regrowth of forest on the east coast “there is more passenger pigeon habitat every year.”
But if a bird looks like an extinct passenger pigeon, has some of the genetic code of the passenger pigeon, but does not act like a passenger pigeon because it is raised by other breeds and few in number: is it a true passenger pigeon? That is just one of the questions posed by the idea of de-extinction—deliberately resurrecting species killed off by human activity or inactivity. And that question may just challenge one of the fundamental concepts of biology: what determines a distinct species.
Welcome to the new era of the hybrid. Species have always been promiscuous and enjoyed porous boundaries, but synthetic biologists and other scientists seem set to blur those boundaries out of existence.
For more than 3 billion years since single-celled organisms first appeared on the planet, life has evolved in one direction only. When a plant or animal becomes extinct, there is no coming back. Or so we thought.
Two weeks ago Australian scientists revealed they had reversed natural selection. Not only had the aptly named Lazarus Project group revived the genome of an extinct species, the gastric-brooding frog, they had also grown embryos containing the bizarre amphibian’s DNA – the crucial first step in their attempt to resurrect a dead species.
The head of the team, University of NSW palaeontologist Mike Archer, announced his team’s milestone at the Tedx DeExtinction event in Washington in front of international peers pursuing the same goal with other long-dead creatures – the passenger pigeon, woolly mammoth and Spanish ibex.
What stands out about the Australian team, however, is the pace of their progress. While other groups are years, more likely decades, from achieving their goal, the Lazarus team could have a gastric-brooding frog hopping back to life in the next few years.
The precise motivation for reviving a species, a process some call de-extinction, differs among its revivors, but a central theme exists. Aside from the wow factor, Archer says, scientists hope their attempt to turn science fiction into reality will help conserve the world’s ever diminishing biodiversity.
Cloning technology could not only bring back extinct species, especially those vanquished by humans, it could also play a vital role conserving critically threatened plants and animals living today.
”If it is clear that we exterminated these species, then I think we’ve got a moral imperative to try to do something if we can,” Archer says.
As with all endeavours that challenge the natural order of things, de-extinction has critics. Some conservationists fear the ability to revive species will distract from current efforts to rescue the vast number of endangered, yet living, creatures.
Others wonder what environment revived species will be born into. If the reason they became extinct in the first place still exists, would we be resurrecting plants and animals only to watch them endure the same fate?
jurassic park is true?
i want to see a mammoth..not a gastric-brooding frog 🙂
i wonder what diseases and viruses they will bring back to life as well?
“scientists revealed they had reversed natural selection”
grandiose statement..we are gods?