Image by Popular Science
Article by Keibun Ko
Extinction is a probable end for all species, but not for long. Bio-tech has been advancing rapidly of late, and scientists are on the verge of developing a process, de-extinction, that would allow them to resurrect extinct creatures. Earth is in the middle of a sixth mass extinction. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird, and mammal go extinct every 24 hours (Donovan). Species whose DNA is too old to recover, such as dinosaurs, may be extinct for good, but for creatures like the passenger pigeon and the wooly mammoth, DNA is recoverable from museum specimens and fossils (Brand). Unfortunately, the proposed de-extinction process will be complex and likely involve at least three stages.
The first stage in resurrecting extinct species is to ask and answer the question; should we bring them back? Many people agree with resurrecting extinct animals because it could lead to innovations outside the current scope of biology. They also want to address the wrongs that drove these animals to extinction. Still, there are many people that disagree with the de-extinction project because, first, we do not have suitable ecosystems to introduce the animals back into and, secondly, why waste resources trying to resurrect extinct species when there are plenty of other species that are endangered which need help (Shreeve).
The next stage involves the process of selecting candidates to resurrect. In 2012, a group of conservationists and scientists met up in National Geographic HQ in Washington, D.C. and chose the passenger pigeon and wooly mammoth as prime candidates for the de-extinction project. Wooly Mammoths went extinct around 4000 years ago, and passenger pigeons went extinct around the 1900s. When these species went extinct, their previous habitats changed dramatically. All extinct species had a role in the ecosystem, and they are planned to be brought back to restore the ecosystem (Shreeve, Shultz). The final stage entails the process of actually resurrecting the extinct animals. Jurassic Park, a very famous movie directed by Steven Spielberg, made resurrecting extinct animals look easy, but this is not the case. The process used by the scientists in the movie is impossible. We simply cannot clone animals because we no longer have fully intact genomes of them, but there could be another way. By using the fragments of the DNA from passenger pigeons, scientists could transform the DNA into cells that produce eggs and sperm which then could be injected into rock pigeon eggs. Rock pigeons have very similar genetic structures to passenger pigeons and are very common. The offspring that hatches from the egg would be rock pigeons, but would resemble a passenger pigeon. Scientists could then breed these new passenger pigeons and have their behaviors be similar to the original pigeons, such as their mating rituals (Lewis).
At first, the de-extinction project may seem cool, but if we think about the environment we live in now, we have other priorities to act upon. Deforestation is happening rapidly, many species are on the verge of extinction, and the ice caps are melting. The de-extinction project is a matter that can wait, but the other problems can not. In addition, the process of de-extinction is yet to be completed. The project may prove complex, but if these three stages can be negotiated, the project might not be a fantasy for long.
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SA 2.0. Woolly Mammoth. Digital image. Popular Science. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.