Friday, August 15, 2014

De-extinction Projects to Resurrect Extinct Species

The 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon is coming up very soon.  It's a sad anniversary and shows that just because an species is abundant doesn't mean it won't quickly go extinct.  The passenger pigeon extinction shows us that we shouldn't take advantage of the abundance of a species.

Here is an article I wrote last year about de-extinction projects to possibly bring back extinct species, at least their essence, though advanced cloning techniques.

Passenger Pigeon by Tim Krepp

There once was a time when there were different species of birds whose populations were so numerous that they were said to darken the skies for days as they passed over. At one time, there was an animal that helped thin out forests in Europe and became the ancestor of modern cattle. Once, there was a colorful parakeet that lived farther north than any other parakeet and was easy to tame. At one time, the booming sounds of a chicken-like bird could easily be heard around well populated towns of the eastern United States. But, no more, those animals are extinct.

But, perhaps they aren't gone forever. New technology and scientific knowledge may bring those animals back into existence. Stewart Brand mentioned several projects currently going on to bring several species back to life in his TED talk in February 2013. Among the species currently being worked on are the passenger pigeon, auroch, and the buccardo. During the talk, Brand mentioned several projects involving new techniques with cloning using related host species and back-breeding.
Besides the projects mentioned in Stewart Brand's talks, several other projects are well on their way to restore certain species. In South Africa, efforts are going on to restore the quagga, which was once considered an extinct species. With modern genetic studies, it was found that quaggas are actually a concentrated race of plains zebra that lived in South Africa. Plains zebra often exhibit variations in their stripes and patterns, including the lack of stripes on some parts of the body. While their project has had some successes, they are still a long way to completely replicating an actual quagga similar to the ones captured or killed in the late 19th century.
More projects could be in the works as the cost is decreased and cloning is perfected. Imagine a world where Eskimo curlew, the great auk, and the Labrador duck are still seen in their natural habitat like they were over a hundred years ago. It will be a long time before longer-extinct species such as mammoths and woolly rhinos come back into existence. There are other considerations such as whether there is an environment to come back to. Questions as to whether or not these "re-made" animals can survive in the wild at all or what impact would they have on existing animals that have filled in the gaps they left when they went extinct.
I, for one, would love to see some of these animals come back into existence. I feel that the people of the past deprived me of seeing many of them, especially the ones that went extinct in the early 20th century. I would like to see how they looked and behaved, even if they're only kept in captivity or for scientific research. I would love to hear the sound of the Eskimo curlew or see the beauty of the Carolina parakeet. Of course, none of these animals would be exactly like their extinct counterparts due to the difficulty of extracting their DNA from long dead specimens.

1 comment:

  1. This is SO interesting. I also think we should bring back some of the species we, as a species, have wiped out. But I agree with you, we also need to provide good habitat as well. Maybe we can do both! I like to stay positive about that. Who knows? There is hope, and I'm glad that science may be able to correct some of the extinctions. Thanks for posting this.