Is there still hope for the dodo? A Glimpse Into De-extinction
Extinction is a concept that has been around for many years, one of the most notable examples being the dodo, which died out in 1662. According to scientists at the U.N Convention of Biological Diversity, the rates of extinction have increased, with over 150 species being lost per day. Due to the immense advances in science and wildlife conservation research, there is a possibility of reversing the extinction process. This process is known as de-extinction and is a fairly new concept, meaning that several questions arise. What is it? How succesful is it? And finally, how does this affect the future of wildlife conservation as a whole?
WHAT IS DE-EXTINCTION?
De-extinction is the reversal of the extinction process. This can be achieved by using DNA present from the fossils of extinct species in order to closely replicate the animal. One of the most exciting advances in the world of de-extinction is the resurrection of Pyrenean Ibex (a type of mountain goat). This experiment took place in 2003, a couple of years after the ibex’s extinction: DNA samples were collected from the skin of the ibex, which had been cryogenically stored, and attempted to reconstruct the biological formation of a Pyrenean Ibex. This was partially successful, as a kid was born. However, the animal died in mere minutes, the scientists had indicated that more research was needed to sustain the DNA replication process.
WILL DE-EXTINCTION PROVIDE AN EXACT REPLICA OF LOST SPECIES?
While using DNA samples from the original species helps with the appearance of the resurrected animal, it does not take into account every single genetic variation that is present within each individual member of the species, meaning that some genes and alleles (variations of a gene) may not be present in the resurrected animal, causing there to be some physical differences. However, it is important to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of de-extinction, and decide whether it is more important to have an identical replica of the original species, or to resurrect the species successfully.
The most famous human-driven extinction stories is the dying out of the dodo. This extinction was reported in 1662, and dodos were discovered in 1507, making their lifespan as a species extremely short. Ever since their abrupt extinction years ago, scientists have been trying to find ways to bring the species back, and while de-extinction through DNA replication is a feasible method, it will not replicate the dodo entirely. Hence, the current research in today’s world, the exact replica of the dodo is extremely unlikely to resurface.
WHAT ARE OTHER METHODS OF DE-EXTINCTION?
While DNA replication is one of the most accurate recent technologies used to support the growing global extinction rate, there are many other ways to replicate or conserve animals. For example, interbreeding programmes have been in place for several years to reproduce similar breeds to the extinct ones. The Quagga interbreeding programme is that the quagga (type of zebra) has no stripes on half of its body, and the aim of interbreeding is to allow zebras with similar traits to the quagga to reproduce offspring with genetically similar traits to the quagga. By repeating this process, they hope to reintroduce a breed similar to the quagga back into the wild.
A technology that has been recently growing in use is stem cell technology. Essentially, stem cells are cells that have not been differentiated into a specialised cell with a purpose in the body. All stem cells contain DNA, and by manipulating the genetic material within the cell through the introduction of specific genes, cells known as induced, pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. These cells introduced into the body and allowed to differentiate make the scientists believe that the organism will grow to share genetic characteristics with an extinct breed that the genetic material was taken from. However, stem cells are taken from embryos, which can raise some ethical concerns.
While there are many ways of conserving the rapidly diminishing numbers of wildlife across the globe, the only real way to resurrect already extinct species is by de-extinction methods, but will they be used in the future? That is an answer only time will tell.