Is it possible to recover extinct animal species?
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Humanity has been playing with natural life for thousands of years.
We’ve gotten remarkably good at it, too: To date, we’ve engineered bacteria to produce drugs, created crops with integrated pesticides, and even made a glow in the dark dog.
However, despite our many achievements in the realm of genetic engineering, one thing we are still working on is bringing extinct animals back to life.
But the scientists are Working on it. In fact, there is an entire field of biology that focuses on reviving extinct species.
Using data published in science newsThis graphic provides a brief introduction to the fascinating field of science known as resurrection biology, or extinction.
The benefits of de-extinction
First things first: what’s the point of bringing back extinct animals?
There are a number of research benefits that come with the removal of extinction. For example, some scientists believe that studying previously extinct animals and looking at how they function could help fill in some of the gaps in our current theories about evolution.
Eliminating extinction could also have a beneficial impact on the environment. That’s because when an animal goes extinct, its absence has a ripple effect on all the flora and fauna involved in that animal’s food chain.
Because of this, reintroducing previously extinct species to their former ecosystems could help rebalance and restore unbalanced environments.
There is even the possibility that extinction could slow global warming. Scientific Sergey Zymov believes that if we were to reintroduce a woolly mammoth-like animal to the tundra, it could help repopulate the area, regenerate ancient plains, and possibly delay the melting of the polar ice caps.
How does it work?
The key element needed to recreate a species is its DNA.
Unfortunately, DNA degrades slowly, and once it’s completely gone, there’s no way to get it back. Researchers believe that DNA has a half-life of 521 yearsso after 6.8 million yearsit is believed to be completely gone.
That is why species like dinosaurs have practically no chance of extinction. However, many organisms that became extinct more recently, such as the dodocould have a chance of conservation.
When it comes to de-extinction, there is three main techniques:
This is the only way to create an exact DNA replica of something.
However, an entire genome is needed for this, so this form of genetic rescue is most effective with recently lost species or species that are on the brink of extinction.
② Genome editing
Genome editing is the manipulation of DNA to mimic extinct DNA.
There are several ways to do this, but in general, the process involves researchers manipulating the genomes of living species to create a new species that closely resembles an extinct one.
Because it is not an exact copy of the extinct species’ DNA, this method will create a hybrid species that only resembles the extinct animal.
A form of reproduction in which a distinctive feature of an extinct species (a horn or color pattern) is reproduced in living populations.
This requires that the trait still exists with some frequency in similar species, and the trait selectively becomes popular again.
Like genome editing, this method doesn’t resurrect an extinct species, but instead resurrects the DNA and genetic diversity that gave the extinct species a distinctive trait.
Is it really worth recovering extinct animal species?
While there is a lot of hype and potential around the idea of recovering extinct animal species, there are some critics who believe that our efforts would be better spent elsewhere.
Research on the economics of extinction found that money would go further if invested in conservation programs for living species; roughly two to eight times as many species could be saved by investing in existing talk shows.
In an article in SciencesJoseph Bennett, a biologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, said “if [a] The billionaire is only interested in bringing back a species from the dead, power for him or her.”
Bennett added: “However, if that billionaire phrases it in terms of biodiversity conservation, then that is false. There are many species on the brink of extinction now that could be saved with the same resources.”