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

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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  • 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 - []
  • 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 hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:20PM (#43184041)

    While I'd like to restore an extinct species, this sort of thing is outright irresponsible.

    As irresponsible as wiping them out without thinking of the ramifications?

    What about the ramifications of bringing an extinct bird back to life that was adapted to thrive in a much different environment than exists today? Are its natural predators still around or will the passenger pigeon take over and push out other species (not to mention causing crop and tree damage)? []

    Because the passenger pigeon congregated in such huge numbers, it needed large forests for its existence. When the early settlers cleared the eastern forests for farmland, the birds were forced to shift their nesting and roosting sites to the forests that still remained. As their forest food supply decreased, the birds began utilizing the grain fields of the farmers. The large flocks of passenger pigeons often caused serious damage to the crops, and the farmers retaliated by shooting the birds and using them as a source of meat. However, this did not seem to seriously diminish the total number of birds.

    Has anyone asked Jeff Goldblum [] to weigh in?

  • by Zumbs ( 1241138 ) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:29PM (#43184153) Homepage
    Bringing them back could raise some interesting questions on how the behavior of animals are inherited from generation to generation. Will the passenger pigeons act like their ancestors or will they take on different behavior?
  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Friday March 15, 2013 @01:40PM (#43184277)

    or will the passenger pigeon take over and push out other species (not to mention causing crop and tree damage)?

    Unless they are much different than current pigeons, I think bridges and building are in more danger.

    Well, that's kind of the problem with bringing back an extinct species - you don't really know how will behave in the current environment until you bring it back. At first it's declared an endangered/protected species, and it starts to grow... flocks of thousands of birds in the air show the success of the program. Then the flocks grow millions, people start to complain about crop damage as the flocks grow to 100's of millions, putting entire forests are at risk.

    It took man 25 years to drive them to extinction (and that's when he had the help from natural predators the had evolved to keep the birds in check), even if it "only" takes 10 years the next time, there's a lot of damage that could be done in the meantime. Plus, man may overshoot the mark and drive other species to extinction in their drive to control the passenger pigeon.

    Sometimes it's better to let sleeping dogs lie.

  • by coldsalmon ( 946941 ) on Friday March 15, 2013 @02:43PM (#43185023)

    According to Wikipedia [], 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.

  • 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.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley