Could we see the return of ancient extinct species?
As gene technology develops, scientists move ever closer to the possibility of bringing extinct species back to life. The Long New Foundation in California is on the front line of research investigating the resurrection of ancient species, such as the woolly mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger, and aims to achieve the genetic rescue of endangered and extinct species.
Aided by new genomic technologies, biologists at The Long New Foundation in California have plans to create a population of woolly mammoths in a Siberian preserve called Pleistocene Park, which was created by Russian scientist Sergey Zimov.
“We’ve framed it in terms of conservation,” Brand said. “We’re bringing back the mammoth to restore the steppe in the Arctic. One or two mammoths is not a success. 100,000 mammoths is a success.”
However, despite huge leaps ahead in the ability to capture and analyse ancient DNA, ‘de-extinction scientists’ are still a long way off from achieving this goal. Currently, the project is working to resurrect the passenger pigeon, which became extinct in 1914, and their hope is to have the pigeon reintroduced into the wild by 2060.
To successfully clone an extinct animal, scientists need to find animal DNA that is almost entirely intact, so some species will make better candidates for resurrection than others. For instance, recently extinct animals that have been preserved in museums make good candidates, as do ancient animals that were preserved in permafrost during the last ice age. Because of the sheer amount of time that has passed, dinosaurs make unlikely candidates. But the woolly mammoth, Tasmanian tiger, saber-toothed cats, giant sloth, and even a Neanderthal could be more viable. The Neanderthal is, of course, the most controversial extinct species eligible for cloning and resurrection, primarily due to logistics – the surrogate species would be us!
Many conservation biologists are concerned about the implications of the movement, questioning the logic of bringing back species whose environments have been destroyed, as well as the potential for creating a breeding ground for new diseases. It also raises many ethical issues - Is it right for mankind to bring back species of the past into a new foreign world? And if so, where do we draw the line?
Some have argued that instead of focusing time and resources on bringing back ancient species we should instead be concentrating on preventing the loss of thousands of species around the planet that currently face extinction.
The question therefore is not so much “could we do this?” but “should we?”
By John Black