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De-extinction: Jurassic Park 2022?
What if we could bring extinct species back to life? It may sound like science fiction, but it is actually becoming a reality. De-extinction is the process of bringing an extinct species back to life using modern technology. De-extinction is a new word thrust into the lexicon of the 21st century as no longer a science fiction term but a potential scientific fact.
This new field is being propelled forward by advances in fields such as computational biology, embryology, stem cell biology, software engineering, advanced biology, medical device hardware, and genomics. Recently, Colossal Biosciences raised $75 million to resurrect the Wooly Mammoth. The company plans to combine Wooly Mammoth DNA with that of Asian Elephants.
The idea is to use genome sequencing to recreate the DNA of the wooly mammoth and then inject it into Asian elephants to create a genetically similar animal as the wooly mammoth. It would not be 100% identical, but scientists think they can overcome the unknowns to create an animal that is a close cousin to the mammoth. Then the new mammoth cousin would be reintroduced into the wild to thrive independently. On the one hand, the resurrection of an extinct species is a fascinating idea, but there are moral and ethical challenges and practical ones.
There are two different scientific pathways to resurrecting an extinct species, cloning, and genome sequencing. With cloning, scientists extract DNA from an extinct species and insert it into an egg cell of a living species. The egg would then be implanted into a surrogate mother, who would give birth to a clone of the extinct species. Theoretically, this process can be used on all known species now. The biggest hurdle seems to be financing and a political strategy to perpetuate each species.
With genome sequencing, scientists would sequence the genomes of both extinct species and living relatives. They would then use this information to create a living creature with a similar genetic makeup as the extinct species. In the case of the wooly mammoth, DNA was extracted from preserved specimens discovered frozen in the arctic.
As artificial intelligence advances and is able to predict missing genome sequences, it is possible that additional, long-extinct species besides the wooly mammoth could be resurrected.
There are more than 16,000 plants and animals on the endangered species list, and with de-extinction technologies, all of them can be preserved for future generations. The idea is to create a DNA and genome database that captures the exact genetic makeup of each species to help with future replication. Species face environmental pressures, primarily from humans, and they could be reintroduced into the wild at the right place and time.
"We're making the path to de-extinction and species preservation a reality by bringing the planet one step closer to reversing the downward trend of ecosystem degradation and the staggering loss of biodiversity through cutting-edge genetic tools,"
Ben Lamm, co-founder, and CEO of Colossal Biosciences
While de-extinction is an exciting new field, there are also ethical concerns that need to be considered. Some people worry that the resources required to develop de-extinction technologies will take resources away from conservation efforts for existing species. It may also create a perception that preservation is not as urgent because we can always recreate a species in the lab.
Others worry about the potential consequences of bringing back extinct animals and releasing them into the wild. Many questions remain on how the newly introduced animals will react in a new environment without having the opportunity to learn from a parental example or without the support of a herd in the case of certain species such as the woolly mammoth.
There are also concerns about how de-extinction will change our relationship with nature. Humans tend to try and exert control, even in areas without experience or knowledge. Many biological experiments conducted by humans in nature have created unintended negative consequences.
There are many concerns about de-extinction, but one of the biggest is the potential for negative consequences. Some people worry that we may not be able to control these animals once they're back in the wild. What if they spread disease? What if they disrupt ecosystems? There are an enormous number of unknowns, and the ethics of the re-introduction of long-extinct species is hazy.
Despite these concerns, de-extinction is a rapidly growing field and holds great potential for helping us better understand extinct species and preventing future extinctions. Will there be a real Jurassic Park in 2022?
What do you think about de-extinction? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?