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Science

Berkeley Scientists Plan To 'Jurassic Park' Some Extinct Pigeons Back To Life 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the hold-on-to-your-butts dept.
phenopticon writes "Researchers at Berkeley are attempting to revive the extinct passenger pigeon in order to set up a remote island theme park full of resurrected semi-modern extinct animals. (Well, maybe not that last part.) Quoting: 'About 1,500 passenger pigeons inhabit museum collections. They are all that's left of a species once perceived as a limitless resource. The birds were shipped in boxcars by the tons, sold as meat for 31 cents per dozen, and plucked for mattress feathers. But in a mere 25 years, the population shrank from billions to thousands as commercial hunters decimated nesting flocks. Martha, the last living bird, took her place under museum glass in 1914. ... Ben Novak doesn't believe the story should end there. The 26-year-old genetics student is convinced that new technology can bring the passenger pigeon back to life. "This whole idea that extinction is forever is just nonsense," he says. Novak spent the last five years working to decipher the bird's genes, and now he has put his graduate studies on hold to pursue a goal he'd once described in a junior high school fair presentation: de-extinction. ... Using next-generation sequencing, scientists identified the passenger pigeon's closest living relative: Patagioenas fasciata, the ubiquitous band-tailed pigeon of the American west. This was an important step. The short, mangled DNA fragments from the museums' passenger pigeons don't overlap enough for a computer to reassemble them, but the modern band-tailed pigeon genome could serve as a scaffold. Mapping passenger pigeon fragments onto the band-tailed sequence would suggest their original order."
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Berkeley Scientists Plan To 'Jurassic Park' Some Extinct Pigeons Back To Life

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  • by Andrio (2580551) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:04PM (#43183865)
    "It's a UNIX system! I know this!"
    • by hawguy (1600213) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:12PM (#43183949)

      Don't be silly, nothing like that could happen - the new birds will be engineered to make them unable to produce Lysine, so they'll be dependent upon Lysine supplements from their keepers. Stop feeding them Lysine and the bio-engineered birds will die. Easy-peasy. What could go wrong?

      • Don't be silly, nothing like that could happen - the new birds will be engineered to make them unable to produce Lysine, so they'll be dependent upon Lysine supplements from their keepers. Stop feeding them Lysine and the bio-engineered birds will die. Easy-peasy. What could go wrong?

        That's why Passenger Pigeons are the perfect choice. Clone a badass motherfucker, like a dinosaur, back to life, and any failure of the failsafes(which never are) makes you carnivore food.

        Clone a dumb bird that suffered hundreds of millions of casualties against humans armed with 18th century technology? No problem. What're they going to do, lame you to death?

        • No problem. What're they going to do, lame you to death?

          No, they'll repopulate, and bury the planet in their droppings...

          • by Beorytis (1014777) on Friday March 15, 2013 @04:06PM (#43185759)

            No problem. What're they going to do, lame you to death?

            No, they'll repopulate, and bury the planet in their droppings...

            Maybe they will repopulate North America, and in the process apply pressure to reduce numbers of imported, invasive pigeons.

          • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Friday March 15, 2013 @10:26PM (#43188251) Journal

            ... they'll repopulate, and bury the planet in their droppings...

            That's not really a joke.

            As I understand it the Passenger Pigeon once cruised the flyways along the eastern part of the US in numbers so great that, during annual migrations, they darkened the sky for days and whitewashed the ground beneath. Their extinction was met more with relief than unhappiness.

            That being said, I've always thought reviving this bird would be a good idea. It is reputed to be quite tasty, raising it in captivity should be a snap, and if it does get loose and establish a pest-level wild population, it's ALREADY been wiped out once by human action so we have a proof-of-concept.

            Others on my list for revival:

              - Quagga. (Zebras are essentially striped donkeys that are essentially impossible to domesticate. The Quagga is a relative that is EASY to domesticate - and in fact was, until it went extinct because other equines became more popular.)

            Dodo: A flightless bird that went extinct very recently because it had evolved on an island, had no fear of people, and had it's "lek" (breeding ground) located right where the military built an airbase during a World War. Big as a domestic turkey but allegedly much more tasty,not prone to panic so easy to handle.

            Mammoth: Those went extinct a while back (some populations apparently by human action), but some in Siberia are frozen in permafrost and suitable for extraction of well-preserved DNA. Apparently these were tasty enough that both stone-age Europeans and pre-Columbian American Indians hunted them - on an industrial scale in the case of the Indians.

            • by dwye (1127395) on Friday March 15, 2013 @11:50PM (#43188595)

              Dodo: A flightless bird that went extinct very recently because it had evolved on an island, had no fear of people, and had it's "lek" (breeding ground) located right where the military built an airbase during a World War. Big as a domestic turkey but allegedly much more tasty,not prone to panic so easy to handle.

              Which world war? The were extinct before the Seven Year's War (aka French And Indian War, in the USA), in fact probably before Queen Anne's War (best guess in supposedly in the 1690s, according to Wikipedia), well before the first airbase, even according to Jane's.

        • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Friday March 15, 2013 @03:27PM (#43185425)

          I've seen this one on SyFy. The scientists accidentally mix in their DNA with the pigeon DNA and we get a ruthless bird-beast that kills with bird-flu contaminated venom. Starring that guy in that show you used to watch 15 years ago and a hot 22 year old wannabe actress the producer is fucking.

        • by bcmm (768152)
          I feel compelled to point out that pigeons are dinosaurs.
    • by ajlitt (19055)

      The solution is obviously to "Jurassic Park" Robert Frost.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      John Conure will teach us how to beat them.

  • by synapse7 (1075571) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:06PM (#43183881)
    saber-tooth tigers?
    • Re:and then (Score:5, Informative)

      by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:14PM (#43183973)
      Actually on the list of candidates [longnow.org] they list the Smilodon (saber-toothed cat).
    • I'm tired of the motha-fuckin saber-tooth tigers on the motha-fuckin golf course!

      This is pretty old news (not surprising for /. I guess) but there was a Ted talk I think on Monday and it was filmed in February. I disagree with some of the ad hoc de-extinctions they propose. Lets bring back the wooly mammoth. Okay, so how well is things working out for normal elephants? Do you really thing asia won't go apeshit for some mammoth tusks?

      Lets say we clearly know it was humans fault that a particular animal went

      • by shaitand (626655)
        "they might put other "invasive species" or ones that were already part of the ecosystem but grew due to lack of competition at risk as they come back and displace them."

        So you are saying it doesn't count because normal selection pressures and evolution could occur afterward? That's silly. Stability in the ecosystem is nothing but an illusion. A natural change triggering it is no better or worse than us doing it.

        The right reason for doing this is because we learn from the process and the resulting creature.
    • Only after mammoths and mastodons.
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      I was thinking, the Rocky Mountain Locust.

      Then, after that, smallpox.

  • Time frame (Score:5, Interesting)

    by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:11PM (#43183939)
    "How soon will some extinct creature live again?

    Signs are there will be some impressive milestones in this decade. Technically one extinction has already been partially reversed. The last Pyrenean ibex (also called a bucardo) died in 2000. A Spanish team used frozen tissue to clone a living twin in 2003, birthed by a goat. The baby ibex died of respiratory failure after ten minutes (a common problem in early cloning efforts). Funding dried up, so no further work has been done on this species as yet. As George Church reminds people, the first airplane flight in 1903 lasted 12 seconds."

    From the FAQ - http://longnow.org/revive/faq-recommended-reading/ [longnow.org]
    • Re:Time frame (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:16PM (#43183987) Homepage

      The last Pyrenean ibex (also called a bucardo) died in 2000

      ...yet there's a media panic if the supply of Twinkies looks like it's in danger.

      Priorities, people.

      • by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:31PM (#43184181)

        The last Pyrenean ibex (also called a bucardo) died in 2000

        ...yet there's a media panic if the supply of Twinkies looks like it's in danger.

        Priorities, people.

        Holy shit! I didn't know about this. So we've finally hunted the Twinkies into extinction? How may breeding pairs of Twinkies are left?

        • Well, no new Twinkies have been "born" since November. Fortunately, Twinkies have a life span of indefinite duration and scientists are now predicting that they will be able to get them started at reproduction again by this summer.
      • by shaitand (626655)
        So you are saying ibex is tastier than a Twinkie? Priorities is right, a fresh twinkie is quite (disturbingly) tasty. What does the Pyrenean ibex do for us?
  • I want my dog back. Perhaps modify the gene's so he does not run out in the middle of the road?
  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:13PM (#43183963) Homepage
    We don't resurrect the huge man killers, we bring back the harmless little ones.

    Yes, we could have started with saber-tooth tigers. But no, we don't.

    Because this isn't a movie, and we aren't pretending to be idiots just to move a plot along.

  • by coolmoose25 (1057210) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:17PM (#43184013)
    I read the article. One of the questions is whether or not it is a good thing to bring them back. Sure, humans brutally hunted them, but prior to that, they were quite the pests... destroying the trees they nested in and leaving "leavings" an inch thick. One of the points made by the guy running this now was that they should go through the exercise of figuring out answers to questions like those, before it gets to the point where DIY folks could do this in an irresponsible way. It might serve as a way to determine what the risks and benefits are for "de-extinction" before deciding to "de-extinct" anything.
    • by Somebody Is Using My (985418) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:47PM (#43184357) Homepage

      I don't see the problem. Problems like these have already been considered by the experts [wikipedia.org]

      When the pigeons become a pest, we just release some Bolivian tree lizards. If those become a nuisance, we simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards. If you have a problem with snakes, well, we've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat. And the beautiful part of /that/ plan is, when wintertime rolls around the gorillas simply freeze to death [snpp.com]!

      See? Nature will find a way! So clone, my little mad scientists, clone like you have never cloned before!

    • by shaitand (626655)
      "destroying the trees they nested in and leaving "leavings" an inch thick"

      So they removed a giant sun blocker and laid down loads of fertilizer to spawn new growth in the sun. Yeah obvious pests there is no way that could have served a useful function in the ecosystem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:19PM (#43184031)

    God creates pigeons. God destroys pigeons. God creates Man. Man destroys God. Man creates pigeons. Pigeons destroy Man. Pigeons inherit the Earth.

  • by coinreturn (617535) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:19PM (#43184033)

    The short, mangled DNA fragments from the museums' passenger pigeons don't overlap enough for a computer to reassemble them, but the modern band-tailed pigeon genome could serve as a scaffold. Mapping passenger pigeon fragments onto the band-tailed sequence would suggest their original order."

    Not quite the original, so not exactly a de-extinction. More of a new breed of Frankenbird.

    • by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday March 15, 2013 @02:06PM (#43184605)
      To be fair, you are quoting the summary and that is not said on the project's main website. However, they do say:

      " Its DNA has already been sequenced... The genomes of the two birds will be compared in close detail, to determine which differences are most crucial. Then the data and analysis goes to George Church’s lab at Harvard’s Wyss Institute to begin the process of converting the viable band-tailed DNA into viable passenger pigeon DNA... There are some 1,500 preserved specimens with extractable DNA."

      http://longnow.org/revive/projects/ [longnow.org]
    • by shaitand (626655)
      Maybe, maybe not. The DNA the forms the difference between the species is likely to be an extremely tiny portion with the vast majority being identical. If the part that is different is contained within the fragments the result will be the original bird... if not, Frankenbird. Does it really matter? It isn't like the little shit machines are around to disprove our belief that we've resurrected them!
  • Nifty! (Score:5, Funny)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@[ ]cast.net ['com' in gap]> on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:24PM (#43184097)

    Okay, I've read this book / seen this movie and know how this turns out so I've got a checklist for when extinct pigeons inevitably become terror-pigeons.

    ( ) Train young child on Unix
    ( ) Use old fashioned door knobs
    ( ) Get several big guns and don't store them in another building
    ( ) Make sure vehicles are ICE and not electric
    ( ) Redundant computer systems are good. You don't have good enough backups.
    ( ) Happy computer administrators are important when hosting terror critters. Make admins happy.
    ( ) The guy with the military training and the lawyer are always the first victims, get to know one of each so that you have warning
    ( ) Outhouses are bad
    ( ) Big thick steel doors are your friend
    ( ) Things can go wrong, that's what the lawyer and military training guys are for
    ( ) Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Add more power to Jeep.

  • by hutsell (1228828) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:27PM (#43184141) Homepage

    Give the problem to Google, Microsoft and Mozilla--the constant one-upmanship in this recreation could turn out to be interesting.

  • by P-niiice (1703362) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:29PM (#43184157)
    We should make their shit be made of Gorilla Glue. That is what we should do.
  • by Tx (96709) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:31PM (#43184177) Journal

    Q: What do you get when you revive an extinct species of giant pig [wikipedia.org]?
    A: Jurassic pork

    OK, I'll get my coat.

  • by fantomas (94850) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:31PM (#43184179)

    It's not dead, it's resting! [youtube.com] (oblig. Motny Python reference...)

  • by jolyonr (560227) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:39PM (#43184267) Homepage

    Bring back a mammoth.

    * figuratively, not literally, please.

  • by locopuyo (1433631) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:40PM (#43184279) Homepage
    I would never pay to go to an island and see a pigeon. I want to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Start working on the good animals.
  • Why don't we find a use for all the city pigeons we do have right now. Make them tasty and I'm sure we can get rid of them within a generation.

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:43PM (#43184311)

    Inject the extinct DNA into a goat, milk the goat, distill the milk to get some stem cells of the extinct species out of it, put the stem cells into the kidneys of a mouse, clone the mouse 526 times, kill the mice, put them all in a BlendTec blender and whiz it for a bit, feed the muck to some chickens who will eventually hatch the extinct pigeons, market a new line of extra crispy "chicken" at KFC.

    I mean is so freakin obvious how to do this kind of stuff I am not sure why we don't revive all extinct species in this way.

  • If you are going to expend those resources why not pick something more desirable?
    Bring Lindsey Lohan back to life and keep her/them away from Hollywood, for instance.
    And whatever happened to the effort to reconstruct the auroch? I'd really like to see them.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Acclimatization_Society [wikipedia.org]

    What utter idiots. Starlings suuuuuuuuuuuck.
  • I love that Jurassic Park verbed.
  • I just finished cleaning my patio from pidgeon droppings, you insensitive clod!
  • by tobiasly (524456) on Friday March 15, 2013 @02:17PM (#43184757) Homepage

    "Using next-generation sequencing..."

    I see what you did there.

  • Now can we genetically engineer them to not take a dump on my car?
  • by coldsalmon (946941) on Friday March 15, 2013 @02:43PM (#43185023)

    According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], attempts at preserving the last surviving Passenger Pigeons in the late 1800s failed because these birds only breed in extremely large groups. So unless they clone about 10,000 of them in one go, there won't be enough of them to prevent re-extinction.

  • Because we don't have enough of THOSE!

  • AWESOME (Score:5, Funny)

    by Blymie (231220) on Friday March 15, 2013 @03:23PM (#43185391)

    Yes, yes, yes, OH GOD YES!

    I've been wanting to eat one of these birds for DECADES! A bird so tasty, we hunted it to extinction!

    There are recipes I wanted to try! Pies and stews and just cooked in the oven. They should do a kickstarter, I'd kick in!

  • by Koreantoast (527520) on Friday March 15, 2013 @03:57PM (#43185687)
    Will these animals even behave the same when they are recreated? After all, animals, like humans, have certain "cultures" where the parents teach their young how to effectively hunt, what to avoid, etc. Recreating an animal won't capture that. At most, they may have the same base instincts driving them, but they may effectively be completely different animals.
  • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Friday March 15, 2013 @08:08PM (#43187571)
    Recreate the Carolina parakeet. The last one was killed by a damn fool ornithologist.

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