Advancements in technology have made gene-editing an actual thing we can use to bring back species long gone. It’s legit. We can do this stuff now.
But what exactly should we be bringing back? And just because we can, does it mean that we should?
A leading conservation biologist from the University of Otago says we should be focusing more on newly extinct species, rather than those from the ancient past. Professor Philip Seddon of the University’s Department of Zoology says long-gone species such as the woolly mammoth (or a T-Rex) would not be the best focus for de-extinction efforts – and not for the more obvious reasons of you, know. Just watch Jurassic Park again, okay?
“While the idea of resurrecting mammoths, for example, might hold a ‘wow-factor’ appeal, efforts would likely be better directed instead towards species where the conservation benefits are clearer,” Professor Seddon says. “The ecological niches in which mammoths – or moa for instance – once lived, no longer exist in any meaningful way. If we were to bring such species back, apart from just as scientific curios, these animals would likely be inherently maladapted to our modern eco-systems.”
Instead, using cloning techniques to re-establish “proxies” of species that have recently become extinct should be the focus, along with determined efforts to prevent endangered species dying out in the first place, he says.
“The money and considerable effort required to resurrect, reintroduce, and manage in the wild, viable populations of once-extinct species means there will inevitably be fewer resources available to manage threats facing the very many species that are currently at risk of dying out, but could still be saved.”
Professor Seddon suggests that de-extinction projects will inevitably be pursued.
“The reality of the idea is too sexy to ignore, and it could be driven by aesthetic, commercial, scientific, or some other hitherto unanticipated imperatives and motivations,” he suggests, but continues to say that “our primary conservation objective must therefore be, as it always has been, avoiding species loss, and one the most significant contributions to be made by ‘de-extinction technology’ might well be to prevent extinctions in the first place.”