Since we saw Jurassic Park in 1993, research on DNA and cloning has brought the idea of bringing back extinct species forward from fantasy to practical possibility. Cloning livestock is easier than ever. Scientists delivered a clone of the extinct Pyrenean ibex, using living cells of the last specimen years after it died. Frozen mammoth DNA holds promise, and there are other schemes to reverse-engineer DNA from thylacines and passenger pigeons. The process of bringing back extinct species is called de-extinction. Considering the scientific progress, it's only a matter of time before success. The question is: should we be doing this?
“If we’re talking about species we drove extinct, then I think we have an obligation to try to do this,” says Michael Archer, a paleontologist at the University of New South Wales who has championed de-extinction for years. Some people protest that reviving a species that no longer exists amounts to playing God. Archer scoffs at the notion. “I think we played God when we exterminated these animals.”
Other scientists who favor de-extinction argue that there will be concrete benefits. Biological diversity is a storehouse of natural invention. Most pharmaceutical drugs, for example, were not invented from scratch—they were derived from natural compounds found in wild plant species, which are also vulnerable to extinction. Some extinct animals also performed vital services in their ecosystems, which might benefit from their return. Siberia, for example, was home 12,000 years ago to mammoths and other big grazing mammals. Back then, the landscape was not moss-dominated tundra but grassy steppes. Sergey Zimov, a Russian ecologist and director of the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy in the Republic of Sakha, has long argued that this was no coincidence: The mammoths and numerous herbivores maintained the grassland by breaking up the soil and fertilizing it with their manure. Once they were gone, moss took over and transformed the grassland into less productive tundra.
Some are leery of the idea, because if those animals went extinct because of changes in their environment, how will they ever thrive again? Others believe resources spent on de-extinction would be better aimed at preventing endangered animals from disappearing. National Geographic magazine looks at the progress we've made in de-extinction, and the ethics of the practice. Link -via The Loom
(Image credit: Robb Kendrick)