July 19, 2014
Bring Back The Passenger Pigeon With Biotechnology?

An Associated Press article asks: Could science bring back the passenger pigeon?

The answer is Yes. Unclear on when. Surely 10 or 20 years from now. Sequence the DNA of a bunch of passenger pigeon specimens. Figure out which DNA sequences are due to decay of specimens. Generate good DNA sequence. Use another pigeon species for an egg. Implant DNA. This would be hard to do today.

Doing this with an intact genome that hasn't accumulated damage might be in the range of what a good lab could do today. But I suspect the genome would need to be constructed from lots of sequencing info. That's hard. If we can't use an existing intact genome then constructing one and getting the epigenetic state right is beyond our current technology. But in 20 years I think it will be possible and maybe sooner.

The more interesting question: Should we bring back any extinct species? For what reasons?

I can see a research purpose to bring back species in controlled conditions: Study their behavior and metabolism. I'm most interested in Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other human relatives. How smart were they? What sorts of personalities did they have?

Another reason: habitat restoration. Set aside some areas to revert to natural conditions and restore species that used to inhabit these areas. This has been done with wolves in the western United States as well as with other species on a number of islands where concerted efforts were made to wipe out invasive species and reintroduce native species. The same could be done with extinct species for which sufficient DNA can be found.

But I'd like to see an end of habitat destruction even more. Humans have destroyed the habitats of many extinct species. Remaining natural habitats have shrunk so far that other species still living in those still shrinking habitats are endangered and don't need the competition from reintroduced species.

Some species could only be brought back to live in zoos. There's not enough natural areas left for them. That's the fate that awaits some big cats and other species. Wild zones in Africa, south Asia, Pacific islands, and other regions continue to shrink in the face of growing human populations and growing demand for land, trees, meat, and other things found in the remaining wild zones.

I think we should concentrate on getting lots of tissue samples from current endangered species so that we will have an easier time bringing them back once they are gone. We need lots of samples so that they can be brought back with a healthy amount of genetic diversity. Then if a couple of hundred years from now should the human race still exist and with smaller numbers we could bring back some species.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2014 July 19 09:28 PM 

Brett Bellmore said at July 21, 2014 3:12 AM:

You seem to have omitted one of the better reasons for bringing back the Passenger Pigeon, and the Dodo, too: They are, reportedly, yummy.

Tj Green said at July 21, 2014 5:31 PM:

Species form alliances with other species,it is a survival strategy as is genetic variation within the species. When we started farming we formed a strategic alliance with our prey,and it almost destroyed us. Then we took our farm animals to America and almost destroyed the indigenous population from an estimated five million to two hundred and fifty thousand. A similar situation in Australia and South America. It would be good to resurrect these extinct species but it would be safer if we could find another earth type planet to do it on.

jp straley said at July 24, 2014 5:50 AM:

Gee, you could make a movie about this.

Crocodile Chuck said at July 30, 2014 8:19 PM:

The ENCODE program shows we don't understand the genome.

The proteome? We've got several decades ahead of us on this.


That guy said at August 3, 2014 7:11 AM:

I oppose the idea of brining back extinct human relatives. It's way too morally frought. I'm all for most of the future tech discussed here even somewhat controversial stuff like enhancements, but this is a bad idea. We've had a miserable enough record of mistreating members of our own species who are insignificantly different; what about other species that are sophisticated enough to have important rights but that are in meaningful ways actually "inferior" to H. sapiens? If you brought them back, they would be subject to injustice and degrading treatment. They would have no sense of belonging, which is very important to social creatures like ourselves. None of us can attest to the type of suffering that would come from knowing you're the only one of your kind.

Bob Foster said at February 10, 2015 12:05 PM:

I think beyond the ecological risks, Revive and Restore has a bigger “why” question to answer. The argument that extinction is forever underlies important protections like the Endangered Species Act, Greely says. Why try to rewrite the passenger pigeon’s iconic cautionary tale?

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