Lost Limbs Foundation

Monday, March 18, 2013

Is de-extinction a good idea?




The possibility of bringing back extinct life has long held a certain fascination for people. How many of us saw Jurassic Park and wondered if, one day, it would really be possible to bring species back from the dead? While we'll never resurrect the dinosaurs, technology is reaching the point where we can soon bring back some of the species that went extinct within the past few tens of thousands of years. But should we?

Though dinosaurs are absent (we have none of their DNA to work with), the list of candidates for de-extinction does include some iconic species. Among more unknown species like the Cuban red macaw, passenger pigeon and Xerces blue butterfly are famous beasts like the woolly mammoth, sabre-tooth cat and the Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine).
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Is de-extinction a good idea?

The possibility of bringing back extinct life has long held a certain fascination for people. How many of us saw Jurassic Park and wondered if, one day, it would really be possible to bring species back from the dead? While we'll never resurrect the dinosaurs, technology is reaching the point where we can soon bring back some of the species that went extinct within the past few tens of thousands of years. But should we? 

Though dinosaurs are absent (we have none of their DNA to work with), the list of candidates for de-extinction does include some iconic species. Among more unknown species like the Cuban red macaw, passenger pigeon and Xerces blue butterfly are famous beasts like the woolly mammoth, sabre-tooth cat and the Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine). 

Proponents state there are great benefits to de-extinction. They argue it will restore diminished ecosystems and help recreate fertile environments such as the "Mammoth steppes" of Siberia. The techniques developed for de-extinction will also aid the conservation of endangered species. As well as this, they argue we have a moral duty to bring species back if we can - especially if we helped drive them extinct.

However, others have severe concerns. De-extinction could take emphasis off conservation, depriving endangered species of much-needed attention. The moral argument might make sense, but as Brian Switek argues we could be repeating our mistakes in bringing a species back without thinking about its future. Another issue is where these animals are going to live, as well as how we will protect them. There may be little sense trying to bring back mammoths when we're failing to protect the elephant species we already have. 

Photo credit: Jonathan S. Blair/National Geographic.

This is only a brief summing up on some of the arguments. The sources and further readings are essential to understand the arguments of both sides:

Extinct Species that could be brought back: http://bit.ly/1076Tjh

The Case For Revival: http://bit.ly/Wx0xtJ

The Promises and Pitfalls of Resurrection Ecology: http://bit.ly/WR58YK

Bringing Them Back to Life - Is It A Good Idea? http://bit.ly/1076c9V

Why De-Extinction is a Stupid Idea: http://bit.ly/YlSPyF

Will we ever bring back the woolly mammoth? http://bit.ly/Wx1p1m

Bring Back the Shasta Ground Sloth: http://bit.ly/YjB3PL