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Reviving extinct species: Can we? Should we?

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Reviving extinct species: Can we? Should we?


Should extinct species be brought back to life?

Thanks to advances in bioengineering, researchers are trying to do just that. The emerging field of de-extinction aims to use advanced genetic engineering to bring back species like the woolly mammoth and the dodo. These efforts are stirring a blend of wonder, investment, curiosity, and criticism.

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Righting a wrong? Or playing God? Emerging efforts to revive species that have been hunted to extinction are raising questions about the promise – and ethics – of bioengineering.

Colossal Biosciences, one company at the forefront of this work, first made headlines for its ambition to de-extinct the woolly mammoth within a few years. Most recently, it announced a new project aimed at bringing back the dodo, raising fresh questions about our relationship with the natural world and the consequences of “playing God.”

However it plays out, some bioethicists see a larger lesson about the interconnections between political, economic, and ecological concerns.

“What biotechnology ought to do is to teach us to pay attention to interdependency and the interrelationship of all forms of life on the planet,” says Bruce Jennings, a senior fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature. If ecosystems and animals “can flourish and can adapt to the changing weather, that’s beneficial for human beings. If we think about ourselves only, we’re not thinking about ourselves well.”

The 1993 film “Jurassic Park” amazed moviegoers with a glimpse into a world that no longer exists – when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The idea of being able to see and interact with these long-gone creatures was awe-inspiring, but also scary when the electric fences lost power. 

Today some of the same ethical questions raised by that fictional story – about our relationship with the natural world and the consequences of “playing God” – are gaining real-world relevance due to advances in bioengineering. 

De-extinction is the idea of bringing extinct species back to life. Advanced genetic engineering techniques are opening the door to doing just that, some scientists say. Efforts now underway to bring back species like the woolly mammoth and the dodo are stirring a blend of wonder, investment, curiosity, and criticism.

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

Righting a wrong? Or playing God? Emerging efforts to revive species that have been hunted to extinction are raising questions about the promise – and ethics – of bioengineering.

However it plays out, some bioethicists see a larger lesson about the interconnections between political, economic, and ecological concerns. 

“What biotechnology ought to do is to teach us to pay attention to interdependency and the interrelationship of all forms of life on the planet,” says Bruce Jennings, a senior fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature. If ecosystems and animals “can flourish and can adapt to the changing weather, that’s beneficial for human beings. If we think about ourselves only, we’re not thinking about ourselves well.”

What is de-extinction? 

Over time, scientists have been exploring several approaches to reviving extinct species. “Backbreeding” is a form of selective breeding, aiming to revive specific ancestral characteristics. Cloning is another option, growing a new embryo (within a species closely related to the extinct one) using a preserved cell nucleus. The recent focus has shifted to a third option: extracting DNA from the remains of an extinct species to create a genetic blueprint that can be inserted into the DNA of a living organism.



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