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De-extinction: Bringing Extinct Animals Back to Life

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If we can bring extinct animals back, should we?

mammoth

What if we could resurrect lost species? Species like the wooly mammoth, the tasmanian tiger or the odd looking dodo. It turns out we already can.

In the case of the Iberian Ibex for example it has already happened. The Iberian Ibex lived in the spanish pyrenees but was hunted to extinction. In 2000 the last of it’s kind died.

However, Prior to the death of the last female iberian Ibex, called Celia, a group of researcher had taken some of her somatic cells. From these stored cells they were able to clone Celia using a domestic goat as a surrogate mother. The clone was born in 2009 making the Iberian Ibex the first species to come back from extinction. Tragically the clone of Celia died shortly thereafter due to physical defects in the lungs.

Still, it seems that it’s just a matter of time before these last hurdles are also overcome.

What then? It doesn’t take long for a new question to arise. A question that addresses the ethical implications of de-extinction: If we can bring extinct animals back, should we?

The argument for resurrecting extinct species is often made by pointing out the huge hole human existence has punched in the biological diversity of the planet. It would be a chance to finally restore some of the damage we have caused throughout our relatively short time here on earth.

Others say that precisely because we are the cause of these extinctions we should first try to prevent endangered species from going extinct in the first place. The rate at which species are going extinct is not at all slowing down. Research into resurrecting extinct species would compete with current conservation efforts for public attention, but also for simply for space. With a lot of natural habitats already in decline it doesn’t sound like a good idea to introduce new, de-extinct species.

As it would become possible in the future to use genetic information from even further back in time, would we stop at just bringing back human-caused, recently extinct animals? And what criteria should we use to draw this line?

What would happen for example after an animal is resurrected from a million year extinction. How would it survive in this changed world and would it even be possible for it to return to the wild? For now at least we can speculate and debate but perhaps, in the future, these questions will need real answers.

Below a talk of American writer Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, about de-extinction.

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