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FEATURED ARTICLE…

BRINGING LIFE BACK FROM EXTINCTION
Lloyd Ongpauco Balinado
July 2014

Dinosaurs, Tasmanian
wolves, mammoths, and do-
dos. What do they have in
common? They are all dead.
But can you imagine yourself
years from now seeing those
creatures moving again and
definitely alive? Will it really
be possible? Let us all discov-
er.

What is extinction?
Encyclopedia Britannica
defines extinction as ‘the dy-
ing out or termination of a
species. This occurs when
species are diminished be-
cause of environmental forces
(habitat fragmentation, global
change, overexploitation of
species for human use) or
because of evolutionary
changes in their members
(genetic inbreeding, poor re-
production, decline in popu-
lation numbers)’.

How can modern science
and technology address ex-
tinction?
An emerging field of biolo-
gy is now on its way to deal-
ing with extinct organisms.
This is called Resurrection
Biology or De-Extinction
which aims to revive species
which has gone extinct in the
past thousands of years only.
It is impossible with organ-
isms which lived tens of mil-
lion years ago, including di-
nosaurs, because DNA natu-
rally degrades over time and
can only remain intact for no
more than about 6.8 million
years.

Advantages of resurrection
biology
Resurrecting vanished
species is possible as long as
their dormant propagules are
found preserved in perma-
frost, soils or sediments. A
success in reviving a single
species will allow researchers
to identify several evolution-
ary stages by comparing this
extinct, resurrected species
with their living descendants.
It could help in preventing
future epidemics, for in-
stance, by paving the way to
studying how disease-causing
organisms have evolved. It
could also provide present
generation with more learning
opportunities about these
dead organisms. Further-
more, de-extinct organisms
could play a major role in
correcting the ecosystem, like
mammoths which once main-
tained permafrost layers.

How is it done in extinct
animals?
Cloning. Using frozen
cells, researchers follow the
process of cloning with a little
modification. They take intact
DNA-containing nuclei within
these dead cells, injected
each of them directly into an
enucleated egg taken from a
closely related species, and
allowed them to divide a few
times in a Petri dish. The
growing embryo is then im-
planted into a surrogate
mother, and if all is well, a
clone of the extinct species is
produced.
This technique is true
with Celia, the last Pyrenean
ibex, a large mountain goat
species. In 1999, a year be-
fore the total extinction of the
species, researchers managed
to collect skin samples from
Celia’s left ear and abdomen,
and kept them frosted. Re-
searchers tried to clone the
goat in 2002 using Celia’s cell
nuclei. They were able to pro-
duce a kid in 2003, but it
died from a lung deformity
just a few minutes after. This
was a good way to start the
field of resurrection biology
and they were still hopeful
that kid or kids could soon be
born.
Genome reconstruction.
This technique involves utiliz-
ing stored extracted DNA
from an extinct organism,
accurately splicing them, and
piecing them together as
much of the organism’s ge-
nome as possible, and then
comparing it to the genome of
its closest living relative.
Genome reconstruction is
a potential technique in
bringing back the extinct
passenger pigeon which ex-
isted in the 19th century and
is believed to be the most
abundant group of birds in
the world. Researchers also
find this practice promising
in resurrecting the well-
known mammoth. They are
editing elephant cells trying
to make them a close resem-
blance of these huge animals
of the Ice Age, which are
characterized by having a fat-
ty layer and thick fur to with-
stand cold.
How can extinct plants be
revived?
Natural regeneration.
Plants which are known to be
extinct could actually be res-
urrected naturally.
Date palm, for instance,
is an extinct tree which exist-
ed few thousands of years
ago, and was considered as a
symbol of good fortune in Ju-
dea as chronicled in the Bi-
ble, Quran, and other ancient
literature. In 1963, 2000
year-old date palm seeds
were recovered from a moun-
taintop fortress on the shore
of Dead Sea. They were then
kept, but only in 2005 when
it was planted expecting
nothing would happen. Sur-
prisingly, after eight weeks, a
shoot emerged from the seed,
becoming the oldest known
tree seed to germinate. It
grew into a healthy plant,
and continues to thrive in the
world today.
Plant tissue culture. Plant
tissue culture is an in vitro
process whereby small pieces
of living tissue, called ex-
plants, are isolated from
plants and grown aseptically
on a nutrient medium.
This technique was used
to resurrect Silene stenophyl-
la, a prehistoric herbaceous
plant. Researchers took pla-
cental tissue samples from
30,000 year-old S. stenophyl-
la fruits which were un-
earthed from squirrels’ bur-
rows located 20-40 m below
the Siberian tundra. After in
vitro cultivation, the placental
tissue produced shoots which
were then used to propagate
more plants. The plants, to-
day, have already blossomed
to produce fertile seeds.
Moreover, studies on this an-
cient plant suggest that it has
a distinct phenotype that is
very far different from the
modern S. stenophylla; that
is, the ability to adapt to an
extreme environment.

Potential problems on res-
urrection biology
Various issues arise with
the emergence of this new
biological field like (1) resur-
rected species can suffer from
poor genetic variation, (2)
bringing to life one individual
does not constitute the resto-
ration of a species, (3) are
there still habitats left for
them to live freely?, and (4)
the readiness of the world,
especially of the human pop-
ulation, for the comeback of
these extinct species.
So now, how do you per-
ceive resurrection biology?
Isn’t it exciting? What was
once an imagination can now
become a reality. But come to
think that with recent ad-
vances in science and tech-
nology, it’s already not a
question of ‘can we?’, but ra-
ther a matter of asking
‘should we?’

References
Attanasio, R. 2014. Resurrec-
tion ecology: extinct spe-
cies and the changing en-
vironment. Journal Inte-
grated Environmental As-
sessment and Manage-
ment Official Blog. Re-
trieved from
http://ieamblog.com/201
4/03/18/resurrection-
ecology-extinct-species-
and-the-changing-
environment/ (July 23,
2014)
Encyclopedia Brittanica.
http://www.britannica.co
m/EBchecked/topic/198
987/extinction
Holloway, A. 2013. The ex-
tinct tree which has res-
urrected from ancient
seeds. Retrieved from
http://www. ancient-
origins.net/ancient-
places-asia/ extinct-tree-
which-has-resurrected-
ancient-seeds-
00901#!bkxK2M (July 23,
2014)
Levy, S. 2012. Wild flower
blooms again after 30,000
years on ice. Nature, v.
482, p. 454
Quiros, G. 2014. Reawaken-
ing extinct species.
QUEST Northern Califor-
nia. Retrieved from
http://science.kqed.org/q
uest/video/reawakening-
extinct-species/
Rich, N. 2014. The mammoth
cometh. The New York
Times. Released February
27, 2014
Starr, B. 2013. Resurrection
biology: The reality of
bringing back extinct spe-
cies. QUEST Northern
California. Retrieved from
http://science.kqed.org/q
uest/2013/03/25/resurr
ection-biology-the-reality-
of-bringing-back-extinct-
species/ (July 23, 2014)
Yashina, S., Gubin, S.,
Maksimovich, S., Yashi-
na, A. and Gakhova E.
2012. Regeneration of
whole fertile plants from
30,000-y-old fruit tissue
buried in Siberian perma-
frost. PNAS, v. 109, p.
4008-4013

Video:
SciShow. Resurrection biolo-
gy: How to bring animals
back from extinction. Re-
trieved from
http://www.youtube.com
/watch?v=y-0mT4oQH3o