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

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."
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The Mammoth Cometh: Revive & Restore Tackles De-Extinction

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  • 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 [], 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?

  • 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.


  • 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 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 khallow ( 566160 ) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @09:05PM (#46384691)

    We're not even in a position to prevent the current ongoing extinctions.

    So we're not in a position to set aside land for the species at risk? We're not in a position to reduce or regulate human activities that could harm the viability of this species? We're not in a position to fight invasive species that might be competing with or preying upon the endangered species? I disagree. I think we're in a position to do all these things, if we think they are worthy enough.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 02, 2014 @09:09PM (#46384727)

    '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, however, and studies are ongoing to determine how elk populations fare in the presence of wolves, drought, and other factors.'


    Your experience with hunting is not necessarily the experience of most hunters. Rich hunting grounds and a diverse ecosystem are not the same thing, not by a long shot. And while I have no doubt there are many ecologically conscious hunters, most hunters are just that... hunters. Many times their interests align with the ecology, but other times the alignment is far from perfect.

The wages of sin are high but you get your money's worth.