Researchers across the globe have revitalized the 21st century idea of de-extinction – the process by which an extinct animal or plant is brought back into existence. Thanks to a DNA sequencing technique known as Cluster associated system-9 (Cas9), scientists can now manipulate DNA sequences like never before.
The main reason behind the de-extinction initiative is to preserve biodiversity for the benefit of animals and humans alike. Although it seems highly theoretical, biologists already have their foot in the door. In 2003, Spanish researchers cloned a frozen tissue sample from the last known surviving Pyrenean ibex and birthed it through a goat. Although the offspring was surely a Pyrenean ibex in nature, it was not able to survive for longer than a few minutes, according to the researchers.
Revive & Restore, a project started by the non-profit Long Now foundation, has attempted de-extinction experiments for the European aurochs, Tasmanian tigers, California condors and even Wooly mammoths. The group is working in global partnership with researchers to aid in the composition of a list of “potentially revivable” species. In February 2012, the group convened a meeting at Harvard University to determine their next steps in regards to the de-extinction of passenger pigeons.
Re-incarnating species using Cas9 DNA sequencing techniques prove simple yet elegant in design. We must first find the genes that make, for example a mammoth, different from an elephant. Traits such as hair growth and extra vesicular haemoglobin to withstand cold temperatures can be extracted from the preserved mammoth DNA and inserted into the DNA of the elephant. Over time, mammoth sperm and eggs develop within elephants, which would soon be capable of birthing a biologically functional mammoth.
Despite obvious controversy, there are confident supporters of the de-extinction revolution. Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, supports the revolution by stipulating that it’s our job to try to fix the 'anthropogenic hole' created in nature. “It’s our fault that some of these crucial species have been completely wiped out, so we should dedicate our energy to bringing them back,” he says. “It may take generations but we will get the Wooly mammoth back.”
We are curious to hear what you have to say about this hot topic! Does it make sense to revive long-gone species despite the many conservation challenges we face with current species? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
See the TEDxDeExtinction website for more information: http://www.ted.com/tedx/events/7650