Pigeons, mammoths, thylacines: Back in action?

Something big is on the loose.

The idea of extinct animals, like the wooly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger, running around in backyards tomorrow is something both researchers and the public have rolled their eyes at for decades.

But things are changing and scientists now believe a full-on “de-extinction movement” is on its way and it’s likely to occur sooner than later.

Thylacines dissapeared in the 1930s. Photo from www.mnh.si.edu.

Thylacines dissapeared in the 1930s. Photo from http://www.mnh.si.edu.

The Revive & Restore project, which sparked out of the Stewart Brand’s California-based non-profit Long Now Foundation, is taking the lead to bring back one individual animal: The passenger pigeon. Meanwhile, they are also helping in other efforts to bring back other extinct animals, such as European aurochs, Pyrenean ibexes, American chestnut trees, Tasmanian tigers and wooly mammoths.

There is specific criteria that is heavily examined as researchers continue sequencing the DNA: would the species be desirable? Is it practical? What would it be like to “re-wild” the species?

Geneticists, conservation biologists and environmentalists are all working with the project to ensure all perspectives are acknowledged.

Why is this something that is happening right now? According to an EMagazine article, the purpose of the de-extinction movement is “to preserve biodiversity and genetic diversity, undo harm that humans have caused in the past, restore diminished ecosystems and advance the science of preventing extinctions.”

New techniques in cloning frozen mammals may allow scientists to bring back the mammoth. Photo from http://bit.ly/eGnCFO.

New techniques in cloning frozen mammals may allow scientists to bring back the mammoth. Photo from http://bit.ly/eGnCFO.

Stewart Brand, the founder of Whole Earth catalog, expected criticism. His response is that “it’s our job to try to fix ‘the hole in nature’ we created. It’s our fault that some of these crucial species have been completely wiped out, so we should dedicate our energy to bringing them back. It may take generations, but we will get the wooly mammoth back.”

Hendrik Poinar, a molecular evolutionary geneticist and biological anthropologist at the Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said that people might be interested in doing this because humans have the ability and always want to push the boundaries of what is possible simply for the sake of innovation.

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