Should We Bring Back Extinct Species?

Scientists are interested in de-extincting species like the woolly mammoth. (Mauricio Anton, courtesy of PLOS)

This post is part of KQED’s Do Now U project. Do Now U is a biweekly activity for students and the public to engage and respond to current issues using social media. Do Now U aims to build civic engagement and digital literacy for learners of all ages. This post was written by Justine Stewart, Ryan Kirchner, Justin Marquez and Jenna Molesko, students in Melanie Lenahan’s General Biology class at Raritan Valley Community College.


Featured Media Resource
VIDEO: NBC News

Scientist Tries To Bring The Woolly Mammoth Back From The Dead
A Harvard scientist discusses the possibility of reviving extinct species, and the impacts that could have on our planet and on science as we know it.


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Learn More About De-Extinction

For many Jurassic Park fanatics, seeing dinosaurs roam the Earth again would be a dream come true. But what if modern science could make that dream a reality? While dinosaur resurrection may not be in our immediate future, scientists are currently exploring the revival of more recently extinct species. There are a few different methods being investigated for “de-extinction,” but all pose the same questions: Is it worth the time and the money to bring extinct species back? Is it our moral obligation to bring back extinct species that have died off as a result of human activities like deforestation? What would be the implications?

Some scientists say revival of ancient species like the woolly mammoth could help repopulate the barren tundra, creating a thriving ecosystem and reducing the magnitude of climate change.

Supporters of de-extinction say that it could improve the environment. Scientist Sergey Zimov believes that by splicing woolly mammoth DNA into a close relative of the species, we could create a hybrid creature similar to the woolly mammoth to reintroduce to the tundra. This could repopulate the area, encouraging the revival of ancient grasslands, which could slow the rate of melting permafrost and, therefore, reduce carbon emissions. This process, theoretically, could slow the process of global warming. The same technology used for de-extinction–inserting DNA of living species into the DNA of close genetic relatives–could be used to help populate species that are currently endangered, or to diversify the gene pool of species with little genetic variation, leaving populations less susceptible to viruses, bacterial infections and disease. Proponents of reviving species also say that being able to observe living, breathing organisms that roamed the Earth in ancient times could provide scientific insight into Earth’s past. By researching the way these animals are structured and how they function, we could make inferences about the ecosystems they thrived in and the conditions that drove them to extinction, maybe even filling in some of the gaps in evolutionary theory.

Would the option of bringing back extinct species give humans less pause about destroying delicate ecosystems?

Opponents of bringing back extinct species think that it may make people less concerned about  future environmental destruction. Human activities like deforestation continue to cause extreme ecosystem fragmentation and obliteration. Many species have gone extinct as a result a rapidly changing environments and destruction of very delicate ecosystems. If we develop a way to bring back extinct species, people may not be as worried because even if a species dies out, we could always bring them back. However, if a species that went extinct due to habitat destruction was revived, there wouldn’t be natural habitat in which they could live. The animals may have to be taken care of in protected lands. Lastly, we don’t know the environmental impacts of bringing back extinct species. Would they be invasive? If there weren’t predators for this species, it could become overpopulated. Alternatively, it could become a “new” predator and wipe out other species. Just because an extinct species once had a niche in the world, doesn’t mean it does today.

What do you think? Are you in favor of de-extinction? Why or why not?


More Resources

Website: Revive and Restore
Candidate Species for De-Extinction
See a list of species that scientists working on de-extinction see as possible contenders (or not) and learn why.

Article: New York Times
We Might Soon Resurrect Extinct Species. Is It Worth the Cost?
Read about the reasons some scientists are putting efforts toward reviving extinct species and why other scientists think that it’s just wasteful spending of money.

Video: KQED
Reawakening Extinct Species
Learn about the growing efforts to bring back extinct species. including the passenger pigeon and woolly mammoth.


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