John Platt has a nice summary of recent activity in the are of de-extinction. This is where you use modern genetic techniques to bring species that are extinct back into existence.

I find it interesting that casual talk about this sort of thing almost always starts out with things like de-extinction very large and very long extinct, and I’m sure, very expensive to take care of creatures like dinosaurs or wooly mammoths. People in the de-extinction business (and there are some, and there have even been some efforts carried out) are more realistic, of course.

I’ve always said we should start by cloning something that is not extinct, from its remains. Start with the dumpster behind a KFC and see if we can get a chicken. (If it turns out to not be a chicken, that’s another matter.) After doing that a few times, try cloning something that has a living ecological analog: The Quagga, for instance. They went extinct recently and are basically a variant of a zebra (though a different species). Then if that works look into endemic recently extinct animals such as the dodo.

After that, we can sit down and talk mammoths and passenger pigeons.

Comments

  1. #1 John Moeller
    Salt Lake City
    March 6, 2013

    I’ve only ever read about de-extinction in the first sense, such as bringing back saber-toothed tigers and releasing them in Western North America. Which seems a bit irresponsible to me.

    I guess this level of de-extinction strikes me as irresponsible the same way geoengineering does. We just don’t know all the variables up front.

    I think, however, that reincarnating the Quagga seems like a responsible thing to do, because we know a great deal more about its niche and now it fits into the ecosystem. Kind of like an “oh shit, we fucked up, here’s the Quagga back, sorry.”

  2. #2 Richard Chapman
    March 6, 2013

    I read recently that cheetahs were reduced to about 10 or 15 individuals about 10,000 years ago. They are all basically brothers and sisters. That has left them open to many genetic disorders.

    I wonder if these de-extinction techniques could also be used to introduce some genetic diversity into the cheetah line?

  3. #3 Bones
    Sydney, OZ
    March 6, 2013
  4. #4 Doug Alder
    March 6, 2013

    John Moeller I agree that releasing de-extictioned saber-toothed tigers in Western states would be unethical. Given the high proportion of Republicans in those states we would be committing the tigers back into extinction from food poisoning.

  5. #5 John Moeller
    Salt Lake City
    March 7, 2013

    Doug: Ha!

    There’s plenty of Dems here too, we try to make people think about the beauty here before they start another strip-mining operation. :-)

  6. #6 Dunc
    March 7, 2013

    I think the really difficult question is not “can you re-create an extinct species?” (although that is a fairly difficult question), but rather “can you recreate the habitat and ecosystem it’s existence depended on?”

    Hell, even for species not current extinct, that’s the real issue… Clone pandas all you like, but if the habitat isn’t there, what good is it?

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    March 7, 2013

    Duncan, exactly, which is why I suggested species with existing analogs, and also keystone species because they contribute disproportionally to creating habitats.

    Also, the environmental factor for long extinct species may be related to pathogens and immunity.

  8. #8 Mark P
    March 9, 2013

    I understand the problems, but I wish we could bring back the marsupial wolf, or Tasmanian tiger. I keep remembering the grainy images of the last one in a zoo, and I feel guilty.

  9. [...] 2013/03/06: GLaden: So, what do you think about de-extinction? [...]

  10. #10 robb
    March 11, 2013

    i don’t think reintroduction of extinct species is wise. otherwise, hell, why not reintroduce small pox?

  11. #11 Eu
    March 12, 2013

    I think the cost to de-extinct each creature ought to be in balance with the “profit” since Debt.

  12. #12 Hannah W
    March 13, 2013

    Great article! I agree with Dunc. Although we may be able to re-create an extinct species eventually, can we also recreate the ways this species survives and exists? In addition, there are ethical concerns because of life and death. Once we can create life, we can also destroy current species. We do not know how these un-extincted animals will effect the ecosystem that have developed without them.