Recently, I listened to a series of five TED talks regarding de-extinction. Here are some interesting tidbits that I picked up.
The biotechnology exists to bring back extinct species, such as the Passenger Pigeon, by using the DNA of these creatures that can be found in museum samples, and splicing them with the more intact genes of similar, still living animals. This technology is being improved upon with each passing day.
Now, the question is, even if we can de-extinct an animal, should we? We need to think long and hard about this. There are several factors to consider.
First of all, if we are going to recreate a creature, we need to be sure that the habitat it needs to survive still exists. Given our penchant for taking over and spreading our parking lots as far as the eye can see, the answer could very well be no. There’s no point in recreating a species if it then has no way to survive.
Another question is, will these reintroduced animals overwhelm plants and animals that are currently thriving on this planet? We need to keep in mind that there may be unintended consequences. We’ve all seen what non-native species can do to a landscape. If something has been gone for centuries, and other animals have stepped into their ecological niche, are these extinct animals really native anymore?
Third, what came first, the chicken or the egg? If you de-extinct a Passenger Pigeon, for example, it will have no parents to teach it how to behave like a Passenger Pigeon. The current thinking on this is that we’d introduce the chicks to similar birds in hopes that they’ll teach them what they need to know. But of course, there are no guarantees.
I have mixed emotions about de-extinction. I think nature has a way of taking care of itself. So, for example, I don’t think we should reintroduce the Woolly Mammoth. It experienced a natural extinction long before you or I came along. The last thing we need is the equivalent of a Jurassic Park.
But on the other hand, there are plenty of animals that are extinct simply due to the callousness of Man. For example, if we didn’t kill Passenger Pigeons by the millions, simply because they were the most easily obtainable source of protein at the time, those birds would still exist.
If we are capable of repairing the damage that we caused in the first place, shouldn’t we do so? It’s a tricky subject. What do you think?
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