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Levi Collins

Professor Thompson

English 101

16 March 2017

De-Extinction is Missing the Point

With new advanced technology and microscopic machines operated by powerful biotics

and digital programing, scientists believe they can, in the future, recreate the past. Through

microscopic pieces of new equipment and machinery, a large proportion of the scientific world

believes that the bringing back of an extinct species is possible, and that it will happen in the

next half century. To some people, cloning seems like a possible solution to the extinction crisis

the world is facing, but this mode of de-extinction completely ignores the true problems behind

extinction. And will eventually fail its ultimate objective. Even if scientists can bring back a few

species from extinction, their efforts will be more than counterbalanced by the thousands of

species that are currently going to unmarked graves.

A new, fancy, and appealing concept appears. Even the thought of man creating and

manipulating the course of extinction creates a sense of power, control, and safety. Therefore, it

is not surprising that this new technology has gained so much attention. Although scientists and

researchers broadcast their optimistic ideas, little has been accomplished toward truly bringing

this science to life. Friese and Marris state that de-extinction enthusiasts are making promises

without any real progress to show for it:

De-extinction illustrates a more general trend toward promissory communication, where

scientists promote their work by talking about things that have not happened yet, and may

never happen Proponents and critics alike end up devoting a considerable amount of
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time and effort to debating the consequences of a science that is yet to be realized (Friese

and Marris).

The concept of re-establishing an extinct species is not necessarily new and was

attempted in 2003. The bucardo was a relative of the wild goat and had gone completely extinct

in the year 2000 A.D. Before its complete extinction, scientists collected tissue samples from

below the ear of the last bucardo. In the second experiment, these DNA samples were used to

clone one hundred and fifty-four embryos. The embryos were put into forty-four female goat

recipients, but only one embryo birthed a bucardo. This poor animal died after a few painful

minutes while it was gasping for breath with deformed lungs. Although some considered this a

partial success, there is really nothing to be congratulated upon. If scientists were only able to

produce a deformed, sickly, weak animal with real DNA samples from a live subject, there is

little hope that they will be able to reconstruct the DNA of an extinct animal and bring it back to

life. This is the seemingly hopeless task that many scientists have taken up. As a beginning, an

institution named Revive and Restore has been established specifically to save species under the

threat of extinction.

For their first test subject, Revive and Restore chose the passenger-pigeon. This pigeon

once populated the east coast of the US in flocks of billions. According to the article, The

Mammoth Cometh, written by Nathaniel Rich, a single passenger-pigeon nesting ground once

occupied an area as large as 850 square miles, or 37 Manhattans. Rich went on to say that in a

few short decades, they were completely destroyed as a species. Many scientists chose this

species to begin their work of de-extinction because many of them remember with fondness the

spectacular bird. Bringing back the passenger pigeon is a much more difficult task than re-

establishing the bucardo species, and that attempt was a failure. Scientists would not have access
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to the pigeons DNA, but would instead have to take DNA from a relative species and manipulate

the genetic material until it would produce a bird that would look and act like the passenger-

pigeon that went extinct. Rich described genetically manipulating the DNA sequences as the easy

part in comparison to transcribing the DNA into a living cell. Rich goes on to say that this

process is even harder due to the fact that bird cells are more difficult to culture outside of the

host. All in all, bringing back a species is even more difficult than it sounds, and is presently far

from being accomplished.

Even if scientists brought back many previously extinct species, against all odds, the

animals that would be brought back would face many new challenges to survival. These species

would lack immunity genes to resist modern diseases and pathogens. These animals would be

exposed to an environment filled with new diseases, predators, and habitats. There would be the

challenge of having to face the different climate, atmospheric conditions, and geological

topography. The air is more polluted than ever before, the ocean is suffering from acidification,

and development is destroying wildlife biomes and ecosystems. It is unlikely in the extreme that

a revived animal would be able to adapt to the new earth fast enough to survive. Doubtless, a

large proportion of them would become infected, injured, and eventually die causing all the

effort and money expended upon their de-extinction to become a waste. Introducing these

animals could also pose a threat to native species and the balance of the ecosystem. Whenever a

new species is introduced into an environment, there is a considerable chance that this species

could become an invasive species and outcompete native species. Many invasive species were

brought into ecosystems to perform a certain function and fill a niche. Although sometimes these

species can often get totally out of hand causing considerable harm to the ecosystem.
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There is a lot of disagreement between conservationists and pro-cloners on the basis of

the funding, the danger, and the popular vision of extinction. Rich portrays the debate between

conservationists and cloning enthusiasts and focuses on the popular vision. According to Rich,

one of their debate topics was on how cloning would indirectly change the public focus away

from conservation of endangered species. People would be more inclined to think that extinction

is not something to be afraid of because scientists can always bring extinct species back, and

money that is now given to conservation will be redirected towards the new science of de-

extinction. The problem with this is that humanity may end up leaving endangered animals to go

extinct in the process of trying to recover prior losses.

Much of these misconceptions come from the way cloning is being presented. Scientists

are displaying de-extinction as a solution to the extinction crisis. However, cloning is not a

permanent solution, but a temporary solution that has a very insignificant amount of long-term

benefits. As David Shultz states in his article, but in spite of any danger, McCauley says his

biggest concern isnt a runaway genetic experiment wreaking havoc on a fragile ecosystem.

Honestly, the thing that scares me most is that the public absorbs the misimpression that

extinction is no longer scary, he says. That the mindset becomes: Deforest, no biggie, we can

reforest. If we drive something extinct, no biggie, we can de-extinct it. The negative

consequences of this thinking are obvious. The world already cuts down too many trees, uses too

many fossil fuels, and hunts too many exotic and rare animals. Thinking that the environment is

repairable no matter what humanity does to it is a completely false assumption.

Suppose that against all odds scientists are able to keep these species from dying off, and

they help the ecosystem in the ways they were meant to. Somehow, the conservation effort is not

effected, and everything goes unbelievably well. The world would still be missing the point. De-
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extinction focuses on the consequence of the real problem rather than the problem itself. The real

problem is that the world is in an ecological crisis, and it all comes down to the way humanity

treats the planet. CO2 emissions from cars, industries, and other sources build up in the

atmosphere causing a rise in temperature around the globe. Among the huge list of problems that

accrue from greenhouse gasses and global warming are melting glaciers and icecaps, ocean

acidification, coral bleaching, and the mass extinction of many species around the globe. These

problems are of much greater significance than bringing back a couple of lost species. This is a

problem that involves the possible extinction of millions of species world-wide, and maybe even

the future endangerment of humanity. If scientists put as much effort into trying to trying to

resurrect the environment, atmosphere, and oceans as they are trying to bring back dead animals

like the mammoth, they might be able to come up with solutions to stabilize and balance the

different ecosystems and biomes that support life on earth.

De-extinction seems like an appealing idea, a shot at redemption. The world of science is

making promises based on speculation, instead of solid evidence. No real victories have been

accomplished, for the bucardo experiment could hardly be termed a success. Even if cloning

worked and many extinct species were brought back, it would in no means lessen the real

problem of pollution. The way humans are treating the planet is causing the animals of todays

world to die at a rate that is earning the name of the sixth mass extinction. Species are dying

off at an extremely fast rate right now all over the world. While scientists and genetic engineers

spend their time, money, and energy toward bringing back an extinct species, thousands of

species are in need of their expert assistance and care. The science community believes that

bringing back extinct species will bring about ecological gain, but the gain of one species is

nothing in comparison to the thousands of species that are dying out on every continent of the
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world. For every extinct animal scientists restore, thousands of todays species will take their

places in the grave of extinction.


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Work Cited

Friese, Carrie and Marris, Claire. "Making De-Extinction Mundane?" Plos Biology, vol. 12, no.

3, Mar. 2014, pp. 1-3. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001825.

Rich, Nathaniel. "The Mammoth Cometh." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Mar.

2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.

Shultz, David. "Should We Bring Extinct Species Back from the Dead?" Science | AAAS. Science

AAAS, 29 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.

Zimmer, Carl. "Woolly Thinking; Editing Ancient DNA Sequences into an Asian Elephant

Genome Might Produce a 'Mammoth.'." Wall Street Journal (Online), May 22 2015, US

Newsstream; The Wall Street Journal, http://ezproxy.clark.edu:12048/login?

url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1682473959?accountid=1157.