Last March, scientists met at a TEDx conference to discuss which extinct animals would be good candidates to bring back from the dead, called de-extinction.
One year later, futurist and environmentalist Stewart Brand appeared on Tuesday at a Ted conference in Vancouver to present the status of a few de-extinction projects.
At the paleogenomics lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for example, lab leader Beth Shapiro and a young scientist, Ben Novak, are trying to revive the first passenger pigeon by altering the DNA of the sally band-tailed pigeon, the passenger’s closest genetic relative. A flock of band-tailed pigeons, Brand said, “is being groomed to become the first surrogate parents of passenger pigeons.”
In another part of the world, Russian scientist Sergey Zimov has created a preserve in Siberia called Pleistocene Park that attempts to restore the type of grassland that existed when woolly mammoths called that place home. Zimov hopes to eventually re-introduce these hairy creatures to the environment.
While the thought of having herds of woolly mammoths running around doesn’t immediatley sound like a great idea, Brand makes a compelling case for why we should pursue the technique.
De-extinction is not just about reversing extinction, Brand says, but about helping to prevent extinction. It “could help revolutize conservation,” he said.
That’s because de-extinction can be used to combat what’s called the “extinction vortex” — when animal populations fall, inbreeding becomes more common and species go extinct by loss of genetic variation. Endangered species like the black-footed ferret could potentially be saved by introducing old genes into current populations, Brand said.
Brand is the founder and former editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue and the co-founder of the Long Now Foundation, an institution that supports projects that promote long-term thinking.
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