LAST WEEKEND AT a TEDx conference in Washington DC sponsored by National Geographic, scientists met to discuss which animals should be brought back from extinction. They also discussed the how, why and ethics of doing so.
They called it ‘de-extinction‘.
A cover story for this month’s National Geographic explains how de-extinction rests on a relatively simple premise: it involves taking old DNA samples, reassembling them into a full genome which is then injected into embryonic cells which have had their own DNA taken out, and then finding a suitable living surrogate to give birth.
The Washington Post reports that ten years ago, a team of scientists from France and Spain almost brought back an extinct wild goat – but it only lived for 10 minutes. It raises a host of issues, including how scientists can get a good enough sample of DNA from the extinct animal – and whether or not they should.
There are a few guidelines for which ancient species are considered, and sadly, dinosaurs are so long dead they aren’t in the picture. Their DNA has long ago degraded, so researchers are fairly sure that Jurassic Park will never happen.
(Video: National Geographic/YouTube)
They chose the animals using the following criteria: Are the species desirable – do they hold an important ecological function or are they beloved by humans? Are the species practical choices – do we have access to tissue that could give us good quality DNA samples or germ cells to reproduce the species? And are they able to be reintroduced into the world – are the habitats in which they live available and do we know why they went extinct in the first place?
Even with the criteria, this still leaves plenty of other animals on the table. The list of candidates is actually pretty long, considering.
The cost of de-extinction varies by species but projects could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. Then there’s also the cost of housing the animals once they are created, and re-introducing them into the world and protecting them from poachers once they are there.
But if you were the zoo that had that one woolly mammoth or saber-toothed cat, these costs might just be worth it.
Here are 22 of the 24 animals they are hoping to one day resurrect.