De-extinction, resurrection biology, or species revivalism is the process of creating an organism, which is a member of or resembles an extinct species, or a breeding population of such organisms. Cloning is the most widely proposed method, although selective breeding has also been proposed. Similar techniques have been applied to endangered species.
There is significant controversy over de-extinction, and critics assert that efforts would be better spent conserving existing species, and that the habitat necessary for formerly extinct species (including dinosaurs) to survive is too limited to warrant de-extinction.
Cloning is one method discussed as an option for bringing extinct species back. Proponents include author Stewart Brand, and proposed species include the Passenger Pigeon and the woolly mammoth. De-extinction efforts are now underway to revive the passenger pigeon by extracting DNA fragments from preserved specimens, and later, using Band-tailed Pigeons as surrogate parents.
Ongoing technological advances have encouraged the hypothesis that by using DNA from the remains of an extinct species, through the process of cloning, the species may be "brought back to life". Proposed targets for cloning include the mammoth, thylacine, and Pyrenean Ibex. For such a program to succeed, a sufficient number of individuals would have to be cloned, from the DNA of different individuals (in the case of sexually reproducing organisms) to create a viable population. Though bioethical and philosophical objections have been raised,[not in citation given] proponents argue that the cloning of extinct creatures is a viable outcome of the continuing advances in science and technology.
In 2003, scientists attempted to clone the extinct Pyrenean Ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica). This attempt failed: of the 285 embryos reconstructed, 54 were transferred to 12 mountain goats and mountain goat-domestic goat hybrids, but only two survived the initial two months of gestation before they too died. In 2009, a second attempt was made to clone the Pyrenean Ibex: one clone was born alive, but died seven minutes later, due to physical defects in the lungs.
A team of Russian and South Korean scientists are, as of April 2013, attempting to clone a Woolly mammoth using an Elephant as a surrogate mother. Large amounts of well-preserved mammoth tissue have been found in Siberia, but, as of April 2013, the cloning process is still in the planning stages. Once the process is completed, there are plans to introduce the mammoths to Pleistocene Park, a wildlife reserve in Siberia.
Although de-extinction efforts have not yet succeeded in producing viable offspring of a previously extinct species, the same process has been applied successfully to endangered species. The banteng is the second endangered species to be successfully cloned, and the first to survive for more than a week (the first was a gaur that died two days after being born). Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, United States extracted DNA from banteng cells kept in the San Diego Zoo's "Frozen Zoo" facility, and transferred it into eggs from domestic cattle, a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Thirty hybrid embryos were created and sent to Trans Ova Genetics, which implanted the fertilized eggs in domestic cattle. Two were carried to term and delivered by Caesarian section. The first hybrid was born on April 1, 2003, and the second two days later. The second was euthanized, but the first survived and, as of September 2006, remained in good health at the San Diego Zoo.
Scientists from the University of Newcastle and the University of New South Wales reported in May 2013 the successful cloning of the extinct frog Rheobatrachus silus using the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer. The embryos developed for several days but died. In an important development the scientists from Newcastle reported associated technologies that provide a "proof of concept" for the proposal that frozen zoos (also referred to as genome banks and seed banks) are an effective mechanism to provide an insurance against species extinction and the loss of population genetic diversity. They connected the circle between de-extinction and the prevention of extinction for threatened animal species. The important advances were the capacity to successfully recover live frozen embryonic cells from animals that produce large yolky eggs (anamniotes such as fishes and amphibians) When this development is combined with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) it enables the genome to be recovered. The scientists point out that many embryonic cells can be frozen and when combined with frozen sperm storage enables the genetic diversity of populations to be stored. With groups of vertebrates such as the amphibians facing an extinction crisis they propose this as an effective means to prevent extinction while the causes of declines can be identified and remedied. The technical difference between frozen tissue samples commonly used for genetic studies (e.g. phylogenetic reconstruction) and those in a frozen zoo is the use of cryoprotectants and special freezing rates at the time of freezing and thawing.
The aurochs, which became extinct in 1627, could possibly be brought back by taking DNA samples from bone and teeth fragments in museums in order to obtain genetic material to recreate its DNA. Researchers would then compare the DNA to that of modern European cattle to determine which breeds still carry the creature's genes, and then undertake a selective breeding program to reverse the evolutionary process. The intention would be that with every passing generation, the cattle would more closely resemble the ancient aurochs.
Opponents of de-extinction have claimed that efforts, and resources, to resurrect extinct species could have been better used trying to conserve endangered species that might themselves go extinct.
It has also been noted that a resurrected species, while being genetically the same as previously living specimens, will not have the same behaviour as its predecessors. The first animal to be brought back will be raised by parents of a different species (the fetus's host), not the one that died out and thus have differing mothering techniques and other behaviors.
Scientific American, in an editorial condemning de-extinction, pointed out that the technologies involved could have secondary applications, specifically to help species on the verge of extinction regain their genetic diversity, for example the black-footed ferret or the northern white rhino. It noted, however, that such research "should be conducted under the mantle of preserving modern biodiversity rather than conjuring extinct species from the grave."
Potential Candidates for De-Extinction
Passenger Pigeon - this species numbered in the billions before being wiped out due to commercial hunting and habitat loss. Using DNA found in museum specimens and skins, the non-profit organization Revive and Restore aims to recreate the passenger pigeon using its closest living relative the band-tailed pigeon.
Moa - this group of large, flightless birds went extinct in approximately 1400 A.D. following the arrival and proliferation of the Maori people on New Zealand, however intact DNA from both preserved specimens and eggshells make the moa a candidate for resurrection. New Zealand politician Trevor Mallard has suggested bringing back a medium sized species.
Heath Hen - this subspecies of the prairie chicken went extinct on Martha's Vineyard in 1932 despite conservation efforts, however the availability of usable DNA in museum specimens and protected areas in its former range makes this bird a possible candidate for de-extinction and reintroduction to its former habitat.
Dodo - this large, flightless ground bird endemic to Mauritius went extinct in the 1640s due to exploitation by humans and due to introduced species such as rats and pigs, which ate their eggs. Due to a wealth of bones and some tissues, it is possible that this species may live again as it has a close relative in the surviving nicobar pigeon
Woolly Mammoth - The existence of preserved soft tissue remains and DNA of woolly mammoths has led to the idea that the species could be recreated by scientific means. Two methods have been proposed to achieve this. The first is cloning, which would involve removal of the DNA-containing nucleus of the egg cell of a female elephant, and replacement with a nucleus from woolly mammoth tissue. The cell would then be stimulated into dividing, and inserted back into a female elephant. The resulting calf would have the genes of the woolly mammoth, although its fetal environment would be different. To date, even the most intact mammoths have had little usable DNA because of their conditions of preservation. There is not enough to guide the production of an embryo.
The second method involves artificially inseminating an elephant egg cell with sperm cells from a frozen woolly mammoth carcass. The resulting offspring would be an elephant–mammoth hybrid, and the process would have to be repeated so more hybrids could be used in breeding. After several generations of cross-breeding these hybrids, an almost pure woolly mammoth would be produced. The fact that sperm cells of modern mammals are potent for 15 years at most after deep-freezing is a hindrance to this method. In one case, an Asian elephant and an African elephant produced a live calf named Motty, but it died of defects at less than two weeks old.
In 2008, a Japanese team found usable DNA in the brains of mice that had been frozen for 16 years. They hope to use similar methods to find usable mammoth DNA. In 2011, Japanese scientists announced plans to clone mammoths within six years. In 2009, the Pyrenean Ibex (a subspecies of the Spanish ibex) was the first extinct animal to be cloned back to life; the clone lived for only seven minutes before dying of lung defects. As the woolly mammoth genome has been mapped, a complete strand of DNA may be synthesised in the future. Mammoth expert Adrian Lister questions the ethics of such recreation attempts. In addition to the technical problems, he notes that there is not much habitat left that would be suitable for woolly mammoths. Because the species was social and gregarious, creating a few specimens would not be ideal. He also notes that the time and resources required would be enormous, and that the scientific benefits would be unclear; these resources should instead be used to preserve extant elephant species which are endangered. However, it was reported in March 2014 that blood recovered from a frozen mammoth carcass in 2013 that scientists now have a "High chance" of cloning the woolly mammoth, despite previous hindrances.
Another way to revive the woolly mammoth would be to migrate genes from the mammoth genome into the genes of its closest living relative, the Asian elephant, to create hybridized animals with the notable adaptations that it had for living in a much colder environment than modern day elephants. This is currently being done by Harvard geneticist George Church, and they have already successfully made changes in the elephant genome with the genes that gave the woolly mammoth its cold resistance blood, longer hair, and extra layer of fat.
A revived woolly mammoth or mammoth-elephant hybrid may find suitable habitat in the tundra and taiga forest ecozones, and may also find refuge in Pleistocene Park, a Pleistocene rewilding experiment by Russian scientist Sergey Zimov to recreate the Mammoth Steppe, the former habitat of the woolly mammoth. While mammoths are not required for the recreation of the steppe, they would be highly effective in doing so by quickly clearing brush and forest and allowing grasses to colonize the area, a capability that modern arctic megafauna do not have.
- Mecklenborg, Theresa. "Cloning Extinct Species, Part II". Tiger_spot.mapache.org. Retrieved February 29, 2012.
- "De-extinction projects now under way". The Long Now Foundation. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
- Brand, Stewart. "The dawn of de-extinction. Are you ready?". Stewart Brand: The dawn of de-extinction. Are you ready?. Retrieved 2013-03-23.
- Lewis, Tanya (August 24, 2013). "How to bring extinct animals back to life". NBCNews.com. Retrieved September 10, 2013.
- A. Zitner (2000-12-24). "Cloned Goat Would Revive Extinct Line". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
- Nicholas wade (2008-11-19). "Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-17. The cell could be converted into an embryo and brought to term by an elephant, a project he estimated would cost some $10 million. "This is something that could work, though it will be tedious and expensive,"
- Steve Connor (2009-02-02). "Cloned goat dies after attempt to bring species back from extinction". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-05-17.
- Gray, Richard; Dobson, Roger (31 Jan 2009). "Extinct ibex is resurrected by cloning". Telegraph (London).
- De-extinction article by NGC
- Zimmer, Carl (2013). "Bringing Extinct Species Back to Life". National Geographic 233: 33–36. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
- Fairfax Digital, Banteng clone leads charge for endangered animals, April 9, 2003. Visited October 12, 2009.
- World Environment News, Scientists clone endangered Asian banteng, April 9, 2003. Visited October 12, 2009.
- Advanced Cell Technology, Collaborative Effort Yields Endangered Species Clone, April 8, 2003. Visited October 12, 2009.
- Nature Biotechnology (subscription required)
- Lawson, Bianca; Clulow, Mahony (2013). "Towards Gene Banking Amphibian Maternal Germ Lines: Short-Term Incubation, Cryoprotectant Tolerance and Cryopreservation of Embryonic Cells of the Frog, Limnodynastes peronii.". PLoS ONE 8 (4): e60760.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060760. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060760.
- Kouba, AJ,, Andrew; Lloyd, RE, Houck, ML, Silla, AJ, Calatayud, N, Trudeau, VL, Clulow, J, Molinia, F, Langhorne, C, Vance, C, Arregui, L, Germano, J, Lermen, D, Della Togna, G. (2013). "Emerging trends for biobanking amphibian genetic resources: The hope, reality and challenges for the next decade.". Biological Conservation 164: 10–21. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2013.03.010.
- Clulow, John; Clulow S, Jitong, G, French, AJ, Mahony, MJ, Archer M (2013). "Optimisation of an oviposition protocol employing human chorionic and pregnant mare serum gonadotropins in the Barred Frog Mixophyes fasciolatus (Myobatrachidae).". Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 10:60. 10: 60. doi:10.1186/1477-7827-10-60.
- Breeding Ancient Cattle Back from Extinction
- Welz, Adam (June 7, 2013). "De-extinction critics at Scientific American have missed the point". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- Lister, 2007. pp. 42–43
- Stone, R. (1999). "Cloning the Woolly Mammoth". Discover Magazine.
- "Cloned Mammoths Made More Likely by Frozen Mice". FOX News. 5 November 2008. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
- Lendon, B. (2011). "Scientists trying to clone, resurrect extinct mammoth". CNN. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
- "Extinct ibex is resurrected by cloning". Telegraph Online. 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
- "Mammoth Genome Project". Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- National Geographic: De-Extinction: Bringing Extinct Species Back to Life
- 24 Business Insider: Scientists Want To Bring 24 Animals Back From Extinction
- TEDxDeExtinction: Revive & Restore