Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

The Mammoth Cometh: Revive & Restore Tackles De-Extinction 168

Posted by samzenpus
from the they're-back dept.
theodp writes "Slashdot's been following de-extinction efforts for a good 15 years. Now, in The Mammoth Cometh, this week's NY Times Magazine cover story, Nathaniel Rich writes that 'bringing extinct animals back to life is really happening — and it's going to be very, very cool. Unless it ends up being very, very bad.' Among the 'genetic rescues' being pursued by The Long Now Foundation's Revive & Restore project is The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback. And returning a flock of passenger pigeons to the planet is just the tip of the iceberg. 'We're bringing back the mammoth to restore the steppe in the Arctic,' says Stewart Brand. 'One or two mammoths is not a success. 100,000 mammoths is a success.' De-extinction, while no doubt thrilling ('It would certainly be cool to see a living saber-toothed cat,' Stanford's Hank Greely and Jacob Sherkow argued in Science), is disturbing to many conservation biologists who question the logic of bringing back an animal whose native habitat has disappeared, worry about disease, and are concerned that money may be diverted from other conservation efforts."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Mammoth Cometh: Revive & Restore Tackles De-Extinction

Comments Filter:
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @02:51PM (#46382693)

    just buy an costa rica island to put them on

    • No, no you've got it all backwards. By the time they can make a whole bunch of hairy elephants (which is what they are doing, not making 'real' mammoths) Costa Rica will be a desert island, suitable for unhairy elephants but not denziens of the Northern Steppes.

      • Ingen will simply buy Novaya Zemlya, then. ;-)
    • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @02:57PM (#46382753)

      Great idea! In the meantime, I'll gather a billionaire, a paleontologist, a paleobotanist, a mathematician and chaos theorist and an annoying granddaughter and grandson.

  • will no doubt be thrilling (although I would personally prefer seeing a return of packs of dire wolves) unless you are out for a hike. They will certainly be one more nail in the coffin of gun control.

    • What? You think that herds of bad tempered hairy elephants can be stopped with tasers?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Raptors. Every card holding NRA member will want to see raptors resurrected for that thrilling, group hunting exercise.

      • by pigiron (104729) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @03:19PM (#46382919) Homepage

        It's currently illegal to shoot raptors (hawks, eagles, falcons etc.) in the US and Canada.

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @03:38PM (#46383047) Journal

        Raptors. Every card holding NRA member will want to see raptors resurrected for that thrilling, group hunting exercise.

        It may seem strange to you, but hunters tend to be one of the most conservation-oriented groups out there. They do care about the environment.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 02, 2014 @03:50PM (#46383121)

          Hunters and fishers hate it when people destroy natural habitats with tract housing or businesses poison rivers. Sustainable hunting and fishing and conservation of our natural resources means that future generations will be able to enjoy the same connection to nature that we have found.

          The idea of stewardship is very important to hunters, but to some environmentalists it has a negative reaction.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            Unless it impacts what they want, then they are a bunch of whiny crybabies.

            What no more lead bullets! your taking our rights away! you hate us! wont some thing of the people who kill things they don't own!

        • by Uberbah (647458) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @04:35PM (#46383355)

          It may seem strange to you, but hunters tend to be one of the most conservation-oriented groups out there. They do care about the environment.

          Only as far as it allows them to continue to shoot stuff. That river and lake system contaminated from a coal company spill? Not known for it's fishing or goose migration, so nobody cares. And that's just the apathy - there's outright hostility towards wolves, because they make it a little harder to get that trophy elk mounted in the den.

          • by tomhath (637240)

            That river and lake system contaminated from a coal company spill? Not known for it's fishing or goose migration, so nobody cares. And that's just the apathy - there's outright hostility towards wolves

            Wrong and wrong. Hunters and fishermen are the first to contribute to river/wetland protection and cleanup efforts. As far as wolves, show me one reference to hunters' hostility to wolves. Ranchers yes, hunters no.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              'Reflecting the concerns of hunters about the impact of wolves on game, Jean Johnson, executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, said that wolves are having a serious effect on hunting opportunities and “15 pairs is more than we need.” Wolves’ impact on elk populations has been the subject of contention since reintroduction was first proposed, with some hunters and outfitters claiming that wolves have decimated elk populations. Biologists aren’t so sure, how

            • by Reziac (43301) *

              Well, there are pro-elk organizations that are hostile to wolves because the wolves are perceived as destroying the elk harvest. But that came about because the reintroduced wolves have become overpopulated for their environment and consequently are overhunting their prey species.

              But one might consider that this is a plea for conservation that does not come at the expense of any particular segment of the ecosystem.

            • by Uberbah (647458)

              Wrong and wrong. Hunters and fishermen are the first to contribute to river/wetland protection and cleanup efforts. As far as wolves, show me one reference to hunters' hostility to wolves. Ranchers yes, hunters no.

              Snort. [digitaljournal.com] You obviously don't live in elk country or have ever seen a documentary on wolves, where butthurt hunters compete with ranchers for hating on animals that got there first.

              Ranchers in Idaho are asking the state government to help eliminate some of the state's elk population. The state is ha

          • by khallow (566160)

            Only as far as it allows them to continue to shoot stuff.

            Which let us note is pretty damn far since it implies creation of wild areas where hunting is allowed and protection of species upon which the hunters would hunt or which hunted animals rely.

          • by aevan (903814)
            Is that any worse than the "we only save the cute ones" hypocrisy of a lot of animal activist-y types? (I'm not talking PETA, but the armchair animal rights people). You know the ones munching on a hamburger while decrying dolphin deaths?
        • "hunters tend to be one of the most conservation-oriented groups out there"

          On the other hand, hunters, and the money they spend on hunting related stuff, have had a negative impact on predator restoration efforts. Some state wildlife managers have decided that we can't have wolves competing for live targets (prey animals) and thus reducing the money their harvest brings in.

  • I mean if they do this sometime they are going to recreate something NASTY.

    Do we really want to have something that you would need to hunt using an AA12 or M60??

    • by pigiron (104729)

      Ant African big game rifle should suffice. Think 375 Holland&Holland on up.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Heh kids these days. Saying they need high callibre firearms. Back in my day we hunted them with spears and bow and arrow!

      • by HiThere (15173)

        IIUC, you did not hunt an elephant with a spear until AFTER you had severed its Achilles tendon. With a sharp knife. Which took maximum stealth, because if it caught on to what you were up to in time it would trample you.

        I suppose that a modern high compound bow combined with poisoned arrows might work, but I've never heard that approach called traditional.

    • by Drishmung (458368)

      I mean if they do this sometime they are going to recreate something NASTY.

      Do we really want to have something that you would need to hunt using an AA12 or M60??

      No, I want something you need to hunt with a Challenger 2 [military-today.com] because anything less is suicidal.

      C'mon, are you up for a real challenge?

      (Why, yes, I may have been watching too many sf movies.)

  • by ddusza (775603) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @03:24PM (#46382951)
    "Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming."
  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @03:24PM (#46382955)

    Some of the arguments against "de-extinction" (there's got to be a better term) puzzle me.

    "Why go through all the trouble just to have the animal go extinct all over again?" First, perhaps we're now in a position to avoid the stupid actions that drove extinction the first time -- in the case of the passenger pigeon, and perhaps even the mammoth, over-hunting. Second, this argument would seem to apply equally to species that aren't extinct at all, but merely endangered. Whey go to any arbitrary amount of effort to protect a species, when it's likely to go extinct (eventually) no matter what we do?

    "It's likely to become a new disease vector." This happens all the time anyhow. As the article points out, restoring a species that competes with current "pest" species (rodents and deer) may well reduce transmission of diseases like Lyme that are currently increasing.

    I'd like to see some discussion that focuses on the differences between "de-extinction" and restoration of endangered-but-not-quite-extinct species. I'd also like to see some discussion about efforts like the American Chestnut Foundation [acf.org], which is working to undo the profound damage from the early-20th-century arrival of chestnut blight in the US. Our forests have adapted to the loss of the chestnut, and its re-introduction would surely cause another ecological upheaval. Does anyone see this as a dangerous undertaking? If not, why not?

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      Ok, but how about, there's a reason why species go extinct -- to make room for other species.

      In other words, Some of the arguments against evolution puzzle me.

      • I'm pretty sure saying "there's a reason why species go extinct" is begging all sorts of teleological questions. Humans are a part of the natural (occurring in nature) evolutionary process, and so is this effort. Unless you want to argue that humans are somehow outside or beyond the natural universe...?

    • The difference between restoring chestnuts vs assorted prehistoric animals is that chestnuts don't kill you. A mammoth may very well kill you.

      Another argument is that we humans tend to mess up nature. Killer bees come to mind. We may think that what we're doing is okay, then it turns out that it was a really bad idea. Consider for example all of the invasive species we've brought from other continents. We should be very, very careful about messing around with mother nature. She can be a bad ass bitch.

    • "de-extinction" (there's got to be a better term)

      entinction ?

  • On one hand, it would be really cool to be able to bring back mammoths. On the other, with a warming planet, their preferred habitat will be shrinking in the future. So it seems kind of cruel. What about the saber-tooth tiger? Can we bring them back too? They're not cute and fluffy, so I guess not. Even so, mammoths went extinct before it was likely our fault. Perhaps we should figure out how to save the animals we are currently pushing toward extinction before we start bringing ones back that have bee
    • Don't be silly. The mammoth evolved about 1.5 million years ago. Quite a few interglacials between then and now when the temperature was a lot higher, yet they did not go extinct then.
      • Interestingly the current thinking seems to be that they probably went extinct when some climate change meant they couldn't find a few varieties of herbs they needed to complement their diet, and they basically went down due to malnutrition.

        Which is a problem we could fix.

        • Of course the idiots in the climate change lobby think that. Everything is caused by climate change these days.
  • Cometh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Optimal Cynic (2886377) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @03:28PM (#46382971)

    The Mammoth Cometh

    I'll get the mop.

  • I can't see this working out well. Probably only a small number of individuals could be resurrected, simply because of lack of good DNA samples, and I bet a lot of errors would be introduced in de-extinction given current tech.

    Genetic diversity, therefore, in the de-extinct species would be incredibly poor and any second generation would likely be rather sickly and not resistant to diseases. Either that or a continuous and very difficult (impossible?) genetic engineering effort would have to be involved in restoring genetic diversity to the species.

    Second, all of a species isn't exactly captured in just the DNA. DNA only gets expressed properly in the right cellular environment, it's a 'chicken and egg' problem. If you don't have a chicken egg, how do you raise a chicken with just the DNA and some other egg? Your other egg may not provide the right environment for correct genetic expression and you may end up with some sort of chimera of dubious viability and authenticity. Incompatible mitochondria are an obvious issue.

    Third, given the first two, your de-extinct species is likely to simply go extinct again unless you correct the environmental issues that led to the first extinction. And given the rate at which we're screwing up the planet, is that really realistic?

    I think it'd actually be better to devote resources to discovering and preserving as much as possible of DNA and related structures for future de-extinction attempts when technology is better and we've learned better planetary management.

    --PeterM

    • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @04:30PM (#46383327) Homepage Journal
      Second, all of a species isn't exactly captured in just the DNA. DNA only gets expressed properly in the right cellular environment, it's a 'chicken and egg' problem.

      I asked this question myself and the answer I got was that the first generation wouldn't be genetically pure, but through selective breeding of the first generation down a couple of more generations you will have a pure genetic animal. Similar to how they destroy mice that have been cultured with partial human DNA (growing a human ear on their back, for science!), it is possible if you let them breed you will get something human.
    • by infinitelink (963279) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @07:50PM (#46384345) Homepage Journal
      The nice thing about mammoths is they are found all the time, in pristine condition, so well-preserved in ice that they're still edible (for a lot of money per steak)...some of the endeavors with them include research on the viability of eggs and sperm from them, though the likelihood is that a modified elephant egg (using parts from a mammoth's if possible--radically simplifying 'a bit') is to be the recipient of factors for fertilization...and then another and another and another for a long time.

      If folks have been smart, they've been capturing good samples of DNA for mammoths for quite a while now. No word on whether that's what's been happening, though.
    • I can't see this working out well. Probably only a small number of individuals could be resurrected, simply because of lack of good DNA samples, and I bet a lot of errors would be introduced in de-extinction given current tech.

      Genetic diversity, therefore, in the de-extinct species would be incredibly poor and any second generation would likely be rather sickly and not resistant to diseases. Either that or a continuous and very difficult (impossible?) genetic engineering effort would have to be involved in restoring genetic diversity to the species.

      They address this briefly in the article. They intend to perturb the genome to introduce variability. I don't know whether they'd do this by introducing traits from the host species, or just more-efficiently permuting the variation from existing individual samples, or whether we've actually reached the point where we can synthesize variation based on our understanding of allele function in other species.

      • by HiThere (15173)

        Personally, I think they ought to blend in elephant DNA. The Mammoth DNA is probably incomplete in every particular case anyway. and there's a fairly close relationship. Just perturbing the DNA is more likely to introduce non-working genes, and maybe some of the elephant DNA has evolved to handle microbe changes. (Of course, mammoths live in a very different ecosystem than do elephants, so that may not help.)

        FWIW, unless they can reconstitute mammoth mitochondria, I think that there's a decent likelihood

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Third, given the first two, your de-extinct species is likely to simply go extinct again unless you correct the environmental issues that led to the first extinction. And given the rate at which we're screwing up the planet, is that really realistic?

      According to the Wormers, yes; yes, it is. Since an ice age is attributed to the mammoth extinction, global warming will have a net positive environmental impact for the mammoth.

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      "Third, given the first two, your de-extinct species is likely to simply go extinct again unless you correct the environmental issues that led to the first extinction."

      Fourth, what happens when there are no brakes on its population because the appropriate predators and other risks to its survival no longer exist? What happens when this species thrives to the point that it drives out (and possibly extincts) current species?

      Reintroducing an extinct species is taking a terrible risk with the current balance of

  • ... but are they hoping to create enough for the population to sustain itself through breeding? Or are they just going to create such creatures to live in isolation?

    I might be thinking of something else, and somebody who may have appropriate reference material handy please feel free to correct me, but from what I think I remember reading about the Mammoth back when I as learning about such creatures in school is that they were by all indications very social creatures, particularly the females, generally

  • This will literally bite us in the ass. This simply brings into specific relief the age-old argument between the self-assured arrogant prick scientist:

    Henry Wu: You're implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will... breed?

    And people with enough perspective and wisdom to understand that there is more to the world than science:

    Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, I'm, I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way.

    And there it is.

    • No it won't. Hate to say it but had Jurassic Park actually been staffed by the large group of people which would've been required to a run a facility of that size, then we'd have obliterated all the dinosaurs in that movie inside of 30 minutes with regular small and not so small arms.

      Humans are the ultimate apex predator on this planet - there's nothing old we're going to bring back that could possibly be of any threat to us.

  • Personally I can't wait for orders taken for 'em.
    They say they tasted great.
    • by roc97007 (608802) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @05:45PM (#46383759) Journal

      Um, not really. My understanding is that dodos tasted terrible. (Look up the Dutch word "walgvogel".) It wasn't that we ate them all, it's that we introduced predators into their environment that ate their eggs.

      • by KreAture (105311)
        Yep, nesting on the ground requires a predator free environment. Same thing with the Megapode which is having a hard time in multiple habitats... (No not just from the hunts by the senior staff at The Unseen University...)
        • by roc97007 (608802)

          Yep, nesting on the ground requires a predator free environment.
          Same thing with the Megapode which is having a hard time in multiple habitats... (No not just from the hunts by the senior staff at The Unseen University...)

          "Skilled at running away". There's a lot to be said for that.

      • I had a hard time finding a translation "walgvogel" other than as dodo, so I'll put it here for others. From An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language [google.com] I discovered that:

        Walgvogel in Dutch means "nauseous bird;" it seems that the sailors killed them so easily that they were surfeited of them.

        I also discovered that both dodo and booby (the bird) are probably portuguese words.

        • by alexo (9335)

          I also discovered that both dodo and booby (the bird) are probably portuguese words.

          Ah, the Booby, my second favourite bird, right after the Parus major [wikipedia.org].

  • Yum! (Score:2, Funny)

    by eviljav (68734)

    Since the indians ate all the best tasting animals first, these are probably really good!

    • by HiThere (15173)

      FWIW, the current theory is that they died out because of climate change killing off their food supply...the same climate change that let us into the Americas, so their extinction at the same time doesn't have much to do with either hunting or them tasting good. Not that we didn't kill them and eat them, but there just weren't enough humans around to have a significant effect (unless you postulate something like carriers of disease...one of the prior theories).

  • "it's going to be very, very cool. Unless it ends up being very, very bad."

    Well, I think that covers pretty much all the options..

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      Not at all. It could just be boring. Also possibly terrifying (but not actually dangerous and hence not "bad"), although some people would find that "cool", I guess...

  • by MrL0G1C (867445) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @06:46PM (#46384069) Journal

    Mammoths never existed, GOD just put those bones and fossils there because he like to fuck with you.

  • There was a classic Analog story by that name ages ago, a decade or so before "Jurassic Park"... Somebody (deceased, alas) thought it would be a good idea to clone a T-Rex. Hijinks ensue.

    "At this point, the subject was approximately three stories tall, as evidenced by the lack of damage and fatalities above the third floor."

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead

Working...