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ETpro's avatar

When genetics reaches the point that we can resurrect extinct species, should we?

Asked by ETpro (34563points) April 3rd, 2013

Scientists in the field of genetics tell us that we will soon be able to resurrect extinct species. Since very recent human predation was responsible for the demise of the Passenger Pigeon in the Americas in the 20th century, I can see it being a candidate for resurrection. I’d certainly love to be able to see a mastodon, and while sudden climate change in the late Pleistocene age appears to have been the prime mover in their extinction some 12,000 years ago, it’s fairly likely that human Clovis hunters played a role in that species’ end as well. So humans resurrecting them might be nothing more than righting a prior wrong.

But what about the Saber Toothed Cats? We humans may have helped do them in 11,000 years ago, but we might say good riddance. How about species even further removed from today’s fauna? I have no interest in living up close and personal with a herd of Velociraptors, their larger cousins, the Achillobators; or even worse, the fearsome Tyrannosaurus.

In this thread I touched humorously on the idea of applying genetics to the creation of chimera. But doing so is not a joke, or even a distant future possibility. We’ve already made glow-in-the-dark cats and other animals by injecting a gene from phosphorescent jellyfish into the egg cell of the animal. As we progress in genetics, the possibility will increase for the creation of designer species aimed squarely at meeting some perceived human need.

But the ability to do something is not an indication it should be done. All of us can stick our head in a hot oven, but most of us can see that’s not a bright idea, and so we avoid doing it. Just where should we refuse to tread in the emerging science of genetic engineering. Resurrection of the extinct? Creation of chimera? Turning our own species into designer humans? Developing viruses and microbes for war or for conferring health, increasing crop yields, etc? When do we start down the slippery slope toward some future genetically altered dystopia or even our own extinction?

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15 Answers

glacial's avatar

As far as I’m aware, there are very few people who think this can actually be accomplished. I’m looking forward to reading the responses to the Redford et al. paper.

Sunny2's avatar

Good question! I don’t think scientists who were able to do that would be able to resist, but let’s start with the harmless animals like the passenger pigeon. I’m not crazy about the idea of creating mastodons and saber tooth tigers. Even if a government tried to control the process, once the process worked, it would be out of control. It’s a scary thought. Who would have control and make the decisions?

keobooks's avatar

I don’t see what could be terrible about making species for zoos or a jurassic park type setting. I don’t think releasing them into the wild would be a good idea, though. Being extinct and having their natural predators or whatnot dead for several thousand years or so may make them the ultimate invasive species.

Here is an article about the first extinct animal cloned in 2009. This species only went extinct in 2000. So it’s circumstance may be a little different than what you’re talking about though.

Here is an article about cloning the Tasmanian Tiger which is almost doable right now.

josie's avatar

There a few traits that undeniably define human nature.

Among them are curiosity, and technical facility.

If it can be done, and it is not apparently suicidal, an argument can be made that it should be done. So I figure it will.

flutherother's avatar

It’s not a good idea when so many species are becoming extinct due to habitat destruction and pollution. It is like trying to raise people from the dead. It’s not really a good idea even if it could be done.

gondwanalon's avatar

Whenever a human does something there will be mistakes made. We are not perfect gods. Not yet anyway. Therefore in my opinion it is not a good idea to mess with mother nature.

What I think doesn’t matter as it is likely going to happen. Perhaps you have heard of a project to clone a Thylacine pup (Tasmanian tiger) that was preserved in jar of alcohol for 90 years. Its DNA was badly fragmented and so far it is not possible to reconstruct a thylacine completely. But that hasn’t stopped the relentless and expensive research. In 2008 a mouse egg was injected with Thyacine DNA. At the foetus stage of development it expressed the thylacine gene and a small fraction of the Thylacine genome back to life.

Yes it may seem cool to bring back the extinct animals. But there are so many problems with that. I say let dead dogs lie and concentrate on saving the life forms that are alive today.

zenvelo's avatar

So it’s fun and makes for interesting zoo exhibits. But it doesn’t get you to know anything more about the species other than maybe its coloring and fur or feathers.

And one of the problems is there won’t be any genetic diversity, so even if you could get clones from two different animals of the same species, you’re not going to get a long term viable family.

So perhaps we can give it a try as a biology experiment, but I wouldn’t waste the time and money on trying to bring back something that died out thousands of years ago.

flutherother's avatar

But there again it would be interesting to find out what they taste like.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

In the year 3535, visitors from Zeneble Ganoobie land their space craft on planet earth. Their exploration uncovers the fossilized remains of an extinct human species. A discussion ensues, “Shall we resurrect this race through our advanced cloning techniques”?

“Sure… A few of them will look great in our zoos”

ETpro's avatar

@glacial Seems to me we’re a ways along the path. What makes it so complicated though is not the genetic engineering but the influences and timing of womb chemistry. Till we figure out just how to fake all that perfectly, you my well be right. Frankly, given the risks, I’m in no hurry.

@Sunny2 I’m relatively certain that when we can, we will. I would love to see a living Mastadon. They are huge and I certainly wouldn’t want to provoke one’s fight or flight response. But they were primarily browsing animals and not the least interested in hunting humans. Not so, the Saber Toothed Cats. People would be on their menu, and they definitely had the wherewithal to kill and consume us. I’m very cool with them remaining extinct.

@keobooks It does seem reasonable, given that we’re causing so many extinctions, that we reverse the ones we can. In the case of the extinctions caused primarily by man, the controlling predator is still around.

@josie Well said. Very true.

@flutherother I am curious as to why it would be OK to drive one after another species into extinction, but not OK to try to reverse that disastrous trend. If we succeed in cleansing the Earth of enough species, we’ll make it uninhabitable for the human species.

@gondwanalon I can definitely appreciate the problem with human miscalculation.

@zenvelo Establishing enough genetic diversity would be a challenge. But not one beyond the reach of advanced gene splicing.

@flutherother Aren’t you willing to believe they all tasted like chicken?

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Argh! Ya think?

Arewethereyet's avatar

Have you read “Oryx and Crake” by Maragret Atwood which looks deeply into genetic engineering, splicing and extinction, one of my top 10 books.

And yes to your answer, with qualifications, genetic diversity is a great treasure on this planet but I would limit the experiment to those who were extinct due to human intervention, neglect or habitat desecration. Those which perished long before human time should probably and sadly remain extinct.

flutherother's avatar

@ETpro I don’t want species to become extinct but they often become extinct because Man has ruined their habitat. Bringing animals back from extinction doesn’t change that reality and seems pointless to me.

ETpro's avatar

@Arewethereyet Thanks for the reading recommendation. I’ve put that on my “To Read” list on I echo your thoughts on the value of biodiversity, and on respecting what nature, absent of human intervention, has eliminated from that mix.

@flutherother We’d have to look at the likelihood of success. The Passenger Pigeon could do just fine with the current habitat. They were hunted into extinction when shotguns made doing that easy. Some animals might be worth the human effort not only to clone them but to rebuild the sort of habitat they need to prosper.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, if research facilities and zoos can contain the animals. Bigger animals are better, such as the mammoth. We should not recreate small animals able to hide easily.

keobooks's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies – I am looking forward to aliens coming to Earth and reviving our species after it’s gone. I think we’ll make great pets.

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