De-Extinction is possible now
Insert extinct species synthesized DNA into stem cells of close cousin, convert to germ cells, insert into living egg, hatch animals with traits more like extinct animals. These could then be further interbred, scientists selecting for those that were more and more like the vanished species.
Using new techniques, the prospect is within reach. Researchers can now induce adult animal [stem] cells to return to an embryo like state and then coax them to develop into any type of cell – including eggs or sperm (germ cells).
In reality the only species we can hope to revive are those that have enough ancient DNA to reconstruct the creature’s genome – we can never hope to retrieve the full genome of T. rex, but very possibly the Woolly mammoth.
Russian researcher Sergey Zimov says the mossy tundra of Siberia could be restored to grassy steppes at the Pleistocene Park nature preserve, but he says, “Mammoths breed very slowly. Be prepared to wait.”
However, “Having the species solves only a tiny, tiny part of the problem.” The Chinese river dolphin became extinct due to pollution and other pressures from the human population on the Yangtze River. Things are just as bad there today.
A huge effort went into restoring the Arabian oryx to the wild, for example. But after the animals were returned to a refuge in central Oman in 1982, almost all were wiped out by poachers. “We had the animals, and we put them back, and the world wasn’t ready,” says conservation biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University.
Passenger pigeons might find the rebounding forests of the eastern United States a welcoming home. But wouldn’t that be, in effect, the introduction of a genetically engineered organism into the environment? Could passenger pigeons become a reservoir for a virus that might wipe out another bird species? And how would the residents of Chicago, New York, or Washington, D.C., feel about a new pigeon species arriving in their cities, darkening their skies, and covering their streets with snowstorms of dung?
“What intrigues me is just that it’s really cool. A saber-toothed cat? It would be neat to see one of those”, says Hank Greely, a leading bioethicist at Stanford University.
The scientific discussion continues at nationalgeographic.com/deextinction
Excerpted from National Geographic
Illustration by Mauricio Antón