The concept of de-extinction, or bringing back extinct species, has been the subject of much debate in recent years. Advances in genetic technologies have led to the possibility of using various methods such as cloning, genome editing, back breeding, and iterative evolution to revive extinct species. While some see de-extinction as a way to correct the mistakes of the past, others argue that it could have negative consequences for ecosystems and divert resources from other conservation efforts.
Understanding the methods of de-extinction will help us understand what benefits de-extinction has and what we need to consider for each method.
- One of the main methods for de-extinction is cloning, which requires the use of preserved cells from the extinct species. This method can only be used for recently extinct species, as cells deteriorate over time. In addition, cloned animals may have health issues, as seen in the case of Dolly the sheep.
- Another method for de-extinction is genome editing, which has been rapidly advancing with the help of the CRISPR/Cas system. By using cells from a closely related species to the extinct species, genome editing can play a role in the de-extinction process. However, the resulting animal would not be completely the extinct species, but rather a hybrid of the extinct species and the closely related, non-extinct species. Furthermore, the more degraded and old the tissue from the extinct species is, the more challenging the genome assembly will be.
- Back breeding is another method for de-extinction that involves breeding animals for an ancestral characteristic that may not be seen throughout the species as frequently. This method can recreate the traits of an extinct species, but the genome will differ from the original species. Back breeding is also a form of artificial selection, and relies on the ancestral trait of the species still being present in the population.
- Finally, iterative evolution is a natural process of de-extinction, where a different species evolves into an almost identical creature to the extinct species. However, this process is unpredictable and cannot be controlled by humans.
Advantages of De-Extinction
The technologies being developed for de-extinction could lead to large advances in various fields.
- An advance in genetic technologies that are used to improve the cloning process for de-extinction could be used to prevent endangered species from becoming extinct.
- By studying revived previously extinct animals, cures to diseases could be discovered. Revived species may support conservation initiatives by acting as “flagship species” to generate public enthusiasm and funds for conserving entire ecosystems.
- Prioritizing de-extinction could lead to the improvement of current conservation strategies. Conservation measures would initially be necessary in order to reintroduce a species into the ecosystem, until the revived population can sustain itself in the wild.
- Reintroduction of an extinct species could also help improve ecosystems that had been destroyed by human development. It may also be argued that reviving species driven to extinction by humans is an ethical obligation.
Concerns about De-Extinction
However, there are also concerns about de-extinction. One concern is the potential negative impact on existing ecosystems. Revived species could compete with existing species for resources or introduce new diseases to an ecosystem. Another concern is the cost and feasibility of de-extinction. The process of de-extinction is expensive and may not be practical for many species. It is also important to consider whether de-extinction is a wise use of limited resources when there are many endangered species that are still alive and in need of protection.
The Future of De-Extinction
As AI technology continues to advance and integrate into science, we may see solutions and better ways to de-extinction without major concerns. The use of AI could help identify potential negative impacts on existing ecosystems and aid in the selective breeding process to create populations with the desired characteristics. However, it is important to approach de-extinction with caution and careful consideration of the potential benefits and risks.