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Do Now

If we are able to bring back extinct animals, does that mean we should proceed with de-extinction? Is it ethical? Should humans even be concerned with this?

Introduction

In recent years, scientists have discovered carcasses of frozen woolly mammoths with intact tissues and preserved DNA. With this DNA, and that from other extinct animals, researchers are trying to actually clone the extinct animals and bring them back to life. Current technologies are on the verge of making this possible. So far, the closest we’ve come is to de-extincting the passenger pigeon, thanks to frozen DNA samples and the DNA of its closest relative, the band tailed pigeon.

Scientists are passionate about de-extinction and have been working hard on doing this research because they believe that bringing back animals that were killed off due to human impact would potentially help to right a historical wrong. Some feel this would somewhat undo the harm and give humanity a chance at redemption for being the main cause of these animals’ unfortunate permanent disappearance. Based on these possible future discoveries, this knowledge can also help us prevent future extinctions.

However, even though we may be capable of producing a viable specimen of an extinct animal, there are many other implications of the process. Some scientists oppose the idea of de-extinction, because they believe that it is a waste of time, money, and effort. The time factor in the cloning process is important because the procedure is based on trial and error.

There are many other political and ethical factors to be aware of if the de-extinction process is confirmed doable. A big issue is the environment. Bringing back the species with DNA samples is not that hard, but bringing back the exact environment and ecosystem it once lived in proves to be much more difficult. Another scary thought—what if the species we bring back turns out to be invasive? Scientists are also worried about the public, and how they will see this process. Upon seeing the wonders of species revival, will they deem it unimportant to preserve species that live on Earth today, as we can merely bring them back again in the future because of technology? Will people will no longer worry about wiping out plants and animals and saving the environment, due to the amazing newly found de-extinction processes? We hope not. Some scientists suggest that de-extinction would actually revive an awe in nature, and it could enrich conservation efforts. They believe that it would drive human interests in species loss as well as call more attention to species revival.

Resource

The American Museum of Natural History video The Science Behind De-extinction
Fossils of dinosaurs, mammoths, and saber-toothed cats on display on the Museum’s fourth floor are impressive and imposing specimens of animals that once roamed the Earth, then vanished during mass extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous and Pleistocene eras. In the not-too-distant future, scientists expect that technological breakthroughs—and availability of genetic data from specimens of extinct species—will provide ways to revive vanished species. In this video, Museum Curator Ross MacPhee discusses the science and ethical considerations of “de-extinction.”


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowExtinct

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.


More Resources

SciShow video Resurrection Biology: How to Bring Animals Back From Extinction
We’ve all seen the movies and heard the hype: But is it really possible to bring back animals that have gone extinct? If so, how? And how soon? And can I have a mammoth to ride around in my backyard? Hank explains the latest research into resurrection biology, and ponders questions that include not only “Can we?” and “How do we?” but also: “Should we?”

KQED Forum episode Science Could Soon Bring Species Back to Life
Can, and should, we bring species back from extinction? Advances in biotechnology may enable us to revive the passenger pigeon, the great auk, and even the wooly mammoth — and help restore biodiversity and genetic diversity in the process. But critics say that de-extinction efforts distract from important conservation priorities like combating habitat destruction and saving existing species. We discuss the issue.

NPR radio segment It’s Called ‘De-Extinction’ — It’s Like ‘Jurassic Park,’ Except It’s Real
Sorry to disappoint, but science writer Carl Zimmer says we’re not going to bring back dinosaurs. But, he says, “science has developed to the point where we can actually talk seriously about possibly bringing back more recently extinct species.” It’s called “de-extinction” — and it’s Zimmer’s for National Geographic’s April issue.


KQED Do Now Science is a monthly activity in collaboration with California Academy of Sciences. The Science Do Now is posted every second Tuesday of the month.

This post was contributed by youth from the Spotlight team within The California Academy of Sciences’ Careers in Science Intern Program. CiS is a multi-year, year-round work-based youth development program for young people from groups typically under-represented in the sciences.


  • Alvina Nguyen

    If we were able to being back extinct animals, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. Lets say that we bring back the woolly mammoth. We wouldn’t know if its truly 100% a woolly mammoth. Why would we bring it back? For what purpose will it be able to serve us? I don’t think that we should bring back extinct animals. I don’t think humans should even be concerned with this be caused what’s gone is..well, gone. I don’t think we would even be able to create the correct enviorment for the animal. So if we have all these extinct animals back, where would they go?

    • tellio

      Your points are well taken. De-extincting animals is beset with problems, but if your argument is that we should not do something because it is difficult and expensive, then I think you must know that almost anything worth doing, like pure research, is difficult and expensive. Human genome? Particle accelerators? Health care legislation? All of those project have been just as beset with even larger problems than de-extinction. I argue that if the problem has already been defined with proponents and opponents, then the human will and imagination have already been engaged. Too late to argue from your point of view. Now…to argue whether we should or not. I think that is still open to question.

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  • Safaa Jamshed

    I think that the scientists should not proceed with the de-extinction because I don’t think there is a purpose to bring them back. If we do, what would we do with them? Where would we keep them? We cannot provide the perfect environment for them. If we cannot take care of them and if there is no reason to bring them back, I think we should leave them alone.

    -Miss Chen’s Student

  • Aabid Jamshed

    De-extintion. The act of bringing an extinct species back to life through cloning. It sounds
    interesting, but is it moral? That would depend on how it would affect the
    ecosystem around it. For example, bringing back a predator that would eat a
    predator that kept the animal population in check could have serious
    consequences. Bringing back a species of extinct bird of prey back could
    potentially help out with rodent issues in the area. In the end, it all boils
    down to how de-extinction will affect the environment.

    Ms. Chen’s Student

  • Julia

    Scientists should not use de-extinction as a way to right the wrongs done throughout history. Bringing back extinct species would disrupt the ecosystems they would be introduced to, killing off prey and other species and severely affecting the other organisms whose populations are controlled by the balance of predators and food sources. What if the revived species causes another one to become extinct? Would we have to continue try and de-extinct species that aren’t compatible with other populations?

  • Mara Duran

    My stance on this issue is that we shouldn’t bring back animals that have been extinct or make new animals. Bringing back extinct species means we have to have the proper environment and we need to know a lot about this animal. We cannot do this due to the fact that we didn’t live around the animal and have never interacted with them. Redemption was used as an excuse to bring back animals from the dead, but I believe this an unintelligent idea. Would we bring back Hitler from the dead just to apologize to the thousands of people he murdered? No. It’s ‘a waste of time. What’s done is done. Also, we don’t know the animal’s behavior and this could be a threat to us all. It wouldn’t be okay to do this because the animal could attack us and cause environmental issues probably. I also agree this is a waste of time and money.

  • Kevin Bettencourt

    I don’t think we should because what would we do with these extinct species. Also couldnt they bring back a disease that could wipe out ecosystems.

  • Luke Bird

    What is De-extinction? This is to bring back a species that has gone extinct over the years. Bringing back a species that is small, and will fit right into our environment would be okay. But a big species such as wooly mammoths will not work. Where could these ginormous animals live? Would their hunting or eating endanger other species living on this Earth? As species leave this Earth, new ones occupy their space, and eat the food they once did. I believe certain animals have left this Earth for a good reason, we may not know why, but that is better than bringing them back and regretting our decision. We do not know what would happen if these species are brought back, and it is better to not know.

  • Pamela Solano

    De-extinction sounds cool, having the ability to bring back animals that have been extinct for years. However, there are a lot of cautions to think about like will they be able to adapt to our environment? The environment they once lived in drastically changed over the years because of global warming and the harm we have done to our earth. Also, would they be able to survive? Would they have enough food to live off on? Bringing back such a large animal could be a little questioning. Where would they migrate to? How do we know they won’t be a threat to our environment? Although there are many questioning thoughts, imagine how much research could be done. We could literally go back in time and study these animals, their behavior, culture, their abilities, their brain. It would be a great project to try, I would love to know how the animals in the past lived and what they did in their everyday lives, how they communicated. I think we could take the risk and bring back some of the extinct animals from the past.

  • Jared Lee

    De-extinction is a great process that can be created thanks to modern technology, but I feel like it shouldn’t be done. Even scientists believe that it is a great waste of time. If the process does work, who can tell what the side-effects could be, who would take blame, what can happen, how do we control the beast. Too many people are at risk and there are too many problems that can happen.

  • Jose Zamudio

    I believe that de-extinction is not a good idea because like the article said “it is a waste of time, money, and effort.” It is not a good idea because by bringing back extinct species we would have to recreate their environment and that is very hard. De-extinction is a big advance in science but it is not a very good idea to do it.

Author

California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a leading scientific and cultural institution based in San Francisco. It is home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and research and education programs, which engage people of all ages and backgrounds on two of the most important topics of our time: life and its sustainability. Founded in 1853, the Academy’s mission is to explore, explain and sustain life. Visit www.calacademy.org for more information.

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