De-extinction, or the idea of bringing extinct species back from the dead, has come a long way over the quarter century since Jurassic Park was first published. It has now matured into a quasi-serious science and has even been the subject of its own TEDx conference.
Of course, no-one is talking about bringing back dinosaurs – their DNA is lost for good – but some scientists are proposing to resurrect a range of other, more-recently extinct species such as the passenger pigeon and the gastric-brooding frog, both lost within living memory.
There are quite a few animals that have become extinct relatively recently that are potential candidates for de-extinction. They include the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, a large marsupial carnivore wiped out by sheep ranchers a century ago, the Pyrenean ibex which was hunted for sport until the last one fell dead in 2000, and the Steller’s sea cow, a gentle giant annihilated by hungry sailors in the 18th century.
Perhaps the most emblematic of them all is the woolly mammoth. There are few animals that better represent the lost world of the Pleistocene than these huge, shaggy relatives of the modern elephant. Woolly mammoths roamed the vast grassy steppe of Eurasia and North America for hundreds of millennia. The very last individuals were an isolated population of pygmy woolly mammoths that lived on Wrangel Island off northern Russia about 4,500 years ago.
There is no shortage of woolly mammoth tissue, some of it remarkably well preserved in the permafrost of Siberia and some scientists are confident that they can extract its DNA to bring the species back to life, either as clones or as a kind of mammoth-elephant hybrid. (Read more from “Race to Modify the DNA of Endangered Animals and Resurrect Extinct Ones” HERE)