Should We Try To Resurrect Extinct Species?

Genetic tech is getting better and better. Should we be using it to bring back extinct species?

KQED took a look at some of the different attempts all around the world to bring back species that have gone extinct — some of them from long ago, like the wooly mammoth, and some of them from much more recently, like the passenger pigeon that was hunted to extinction.

Using DNA extracted from passenger pigeon specimens stored in facilities like Canada's Royal Ontario Museum, Novak and Shapiro are putting together as much of the passenger pigeon's genome as possible. Then they'll compare it to the genome of its closest living relative, the band-tailed pigeon, which is found on the West Coast, in the Southwest, and all the way down to Argentina. By comparing the two genomes scientists hope to figure out what genes gave the passenger pigeon its physical characteristics, like the long tail and swift wings that allowed it to fly at 60 miles per hour.

Once researchers have identified these genes and built them in the lab using chemical compounds, they'll insert them into the band-tailed pigeon's genome using new genome-editing technology.

"It's like very precise scissors that allow you to cut and splice with unprecedented accuracy and ease of use," said Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church, one of the scientists who pioneered the technology, known as CRISPR, in the past year. In his lab, Church is editing elephant cells to try to make those animals more closely resemble woolly mammoths, with a fatty layer and thick fur to better withstand the cold.

What do you think: Should extinct species be brought back? Would it be fair to classify these species as the same ones that died out, or are they something new and different? What (and who) should determine if an attempt is made?

Tell us your opinion — and what kind of consequences you think resurrecting extinct species might have down the line — now in the comments.

Image: Wooly Mammoth skeleton / Lou.gruber.