DNA from several extinct species has been found in good enough condition to enable sequencing. Some of those samples (e.g. for Neanderthal) are undergoing sequencing. So for a likely increasing number of species we will soon have DNA sequences essential to efforts to revive extinct species. Some day the biotechnology will be developed to enable the conversion of DNA sequences into living instances of lost species. Then what?
Once it becomes technologically possible will species revival be done? Think about it from a legal perspective. The world has about 200 sovereign countries. It only takes one country to allow species revival for this to happen. My guess is that at least one government will see an advantage from revival of extinction species. For example, the revived species would draw in tourists, especially if the species had unusual characteristics. Species revival will enable scientists to study the behavior and capabilities of now extinct species. So species revival can be justified on scientific grounds as well.
So what's available for eventual revival? Turns out egg shells retain DNA for a long time. Fossil eggshells from 19,000 year old extinct emus, the 880 lb elephant bird Aepyornis, moas, and other species have been recovered. Since some of these species were likely driven extinct by humans in the first place one justification for their revival would be to right an ancient wrong. Now, not everyone will see species driven to extinction by humans a few tens of thousands of years ago as a wrong in the first place. But some will find that a compelling argument.
Hominid competitors to humans have also been sequenced including Neanderthals and Denisovans (which Greg Cochran thinks might have been late surviving homo erectus). Did we humans drive these other hominds to extinction? Possibly.
What about more recent extinctions? The passenger pigeon, the last of which died in 1914, as recently as the early 19th century numbered in the billions. Should we bring it back once we have the ability to do so?
Numerous other species are headed for extinction. We should collect many DNA samples from them so that if the human population ever reduces its footprint on the Earth these species could be reintroduced.
What about downsides to species revival? Depends on the species. We do not have to worry about ecological disturbances from any species we bring back that can be easily wiped out again. So, for example, the 880 lb Aepyornis will not pose a problem. The biggest threat from a species is most likely that it could spread so successfully that it would wipe out other species. We already face that problem from large numbers of invasive species that humans are moving between continents and islands and even between bodies of water (e.g. Asian carp in the Mississippi River system). Smaller species that are not airborne are probably most potentially problematic.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2011 January 01 11:34 PM Trends Extinction|