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Is It Worthwhile to Bring Extinct Species Back to Life?

Is It Worthwhile to Bring Extinct Species Back to Life?

As of last week, Australia’s gastric-breeding frog, declared extinct in 1983, lives again. A team of Australian scientists who are part of the aptly named Lazarus Project has announced that it has successfully “revived and reactivated” the genome of Rheobatrachus silus using cell nuclei from tissues that had been frozen since the 1970s. The woolly mammoth and the dodo could be the next candidates for de-extinction.

In Dubai, scientists have also had success developing a technique that could be used to bring back extinct species to life. These researchers successfully engineered a duck who fathered a chicken by injecting a male duck embryo with cells from chickens that produce gametes (sperm or eggs). After the duck became sexually mature, it produced chicken reproductive cells and was able to breed with a hen — and to father a chick. According to Treehugger, the scientists are hoping that that “one day chickens could be modified with DNA from other bird types, like eagles or songbirds, to breed offspring belonging to a species not their own — including those previously wiped out of existence.

But should we be focusing our resources on developing such techniques to clone extinct species and, a la Jurassic Park, bring animals back to life who’ve long disappeared from the face of the earth?

The Australian scientists used a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer to implant the nuclei of the extinct frog into those of a distantly related species, the great barred frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus). Some of these eggs grew into the early embryo stage. They did not live for more than a few days but, as Professor Mike Archer, of the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, says, “We are watching Lazarus arise from the dead, step by exciting step.”

Archer has had a long-time interest in cloning another extinct Australian species, the Austrlaian thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, and described his efforts to do so at a TEDxDeExtinction event in Washington, D.C., on March 15. More efforts to clone extinct species are in the works. “We’re increasingly confident that the hurdles ahead are technological and not biological and that we will succeed,” Archer says, noting that the technology he’s helped to create as showing “great promise .. as a conservation tool when hundreds of the world’s amphibian species are in catastrophic decline.”

The Ethics of De-extinction

The cloning of extinct species raises “ethical, moral and technical questions.” By “de-extincting” animals that have died out, humans are indeed “playing God.” Is cloning an extinct species the same thing as actually bringing it back to life? Or is it instead about creating a new species that looks exactly like the old one? As the scientists and conservationists participating in the TEDxDeExtinction event themselves noted, “is the genome the species?”

That is, just because the embryos the Australian scientists created had the same genetic make-up as the gastric-breeding frog, they are not necessarily just the same as those frogs who were born in nature. Nurture also plays a role in the development of animals. As the researchers point out, “if California condors had gone extinct, it’s unclear if they could be brought back fully, because the young rely on parental training.”

As we debate whether to develop such techniques or to focus resources on preserving the habitats of threatened and endangered species from tigers to monkeys to polar bears, consider this scenario: if the human race was wiped out and human children were created from freeze-dried cells raised by a species other than humans, they might be “human” in their genetics and appearance only.

What we should be focusing on is protecting the ecosystems of threatened wildlife, halting deforestation, preserving water supplies and doing all we can do to fight climate change, to keep so many species (like the gastric-breeding frog, who went extinct due to habitat loss) from disappearing in the first place.


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10:11AM PST on Feb 10, 2014

If we can play god enough to kill them, I feel it is our responsibility to play god enough to fix the damage we cause, whether by using the technology to bring a species back to life, or help the endangered ones we've already got.

I highly doubt anybody would bring up an ethical question were we to wipe out an animal we in some way depend on.

10:11AM PST on Feb 10, 2014

If we can play god enough to kill them, I feel it is our responsibility to play god enough to fix the damage we cause, whether by using the technology to bring a species back to life, or help the endangered ones we've already got.

I highly doubt anybody would bring up an ethical question where we to wipe out an animal we in some way depend on.

11:46PM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

I think that we should be putting more focus on stopping more species from going extinct because of human activities/human caused conditions.

12:12AM PDT on Jun 3, 2013

What a waste of time and a waste of so many brilliant minds, money, and time. These scientists should be focused on saving the planet and saving the lives of all living things. I wish I could march up to them and give them a piece of my mind! The very idea!

11:39PM PDT on Jun 2, 2013

It would be nice to bring back some of the species that became extinct over the last hundred years or so, but until mankind has learned not to hunt them to extinction, scientists will just be running around in circles bringing them back again & again.

11:17PM PDT on Jun 2, 2013

Humans were responsible for the extinction of these animals.
I believe that if we are given the opportunity to undo this injustice, then it is our responsibility to do so, while at the same time protecting existing species from extinction.

5:47PM PDT on Jun 2, 2013

No. Im sorry but no, we should focus our efforts on saving what we still have. In the future, when animals are safer and not as threatened, maybe we could revisit this issue. Now really isn't the time

2:48AM PDT on May 2, 2013

agree with michaela c,thank you for sharing

5:47PM PDT on Apr 29, 2013

This is a no no. Preserve what we have and use resources to get rid of poverty and hunger.
Cloning if not held in check will create freaks of nature that will wreck havoc on us

9:56AM PDT on Apr 17, 2013

HOW DO EGG YOLKS BECOME CHICKENS? (Internet Article) When you divide a cake, the parts are smaller than the original cake and the cake never gets bigger. When we were a single cell and that cell divided, the new cells were the same size as the original cell and we got bigger. New material had to come from somewhere. That new material came from food. The sequence in our DNA directed our mother's food, we received in the womb, to become new cells forming all the tissues and organs of our body. Understand how DNA works. Read my Internet article: HOW DO EGG YOLKS BECOME CHICKENS? Just google the title to access the article.

This article explains how DNA works and will give you a good understanding of DNA, as well as cloning and genetic engineering.

Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

Babu G. Ranganathan
(B.A. Bible/Biology)

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