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David Johnson

Remote Emergency Medical Responder, Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir

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Science is developing the tools towards de-extinction of species on the planet that have become extinct. The question becomes; Should we?

Stewart Brand and his colleagues are at the biotech precipice of reviving extinct species. The Revive and Restore project plans to not only bring species back but restore them to the wild, as well as protect currently endangered species.

I don't think any of us will have a problem with the latter, this discussion is focused on the primary goal; reintroduction of extinct species. We are not talking about dinosaurs here, but the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Heath Hen, European Aurochs, Bucardo, The Taz Tiger, etc.

Up for debate here: Should we?

Where we can all appreciate the science being developed, we must discuss the implications of initiating projects like this. I submit we need to discuss this on behalf of the existing species that we have, as well as for the animals that are lost.

Some questions to consider:

Do we value the argument that we should 'undo the harm' that humans have caused in the past, due to over-hunting or destruction of habitat? Should we rewrite or undo history?

Many of these species have not been in the natural environment for 100 years. It is fair to say that the natural predators or prey of these species, the plants or insect life they feed on, the environments they roam through ... have altered in their absence. Has the cycle of the earth, moved on without them?

We have a long history of experiencing what can happen when biodiversity is altered by introducing a species not indigenous to the area in question. Cane Toads in Australia, Grey Squirrel in Europe or the Gypsy Moth.

Is this project actually an introduction of a species back into an environment that may not be able to sustain it as it once did?

Even though we can grieve the lost of the Dodo, should we bring it back at all costs?

Or as Daniel Chan asks below;

how can we effectively simulate the effects of introducing pre-existing species to the environment before actually doing so?

What other Questions should we ask?

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    Mar 14 2013: In one aspect I see it as a new level of evolution. As a species, homo sapien is the first to evolve the ability to modify its environment to fit its needs. (at least on a high level... beavers build dams, birds build nests, etc) For the past several thousand years we have bred and domesticated animals. The dog is a fantastic example of how much we have tinkered with evolution. Today we are working with our own genome. Cloning is adding another level. Some call this unnatural and I certainly see the logic of the argument. However, from one point of view it is interesting that evolution, an unconscious and undirected mechanism of life, has evolved a species with a conscious ability to control that mechanism. Evolution, life, and nature, are currently more powerful than we are, however our ability to take control is interesting. Perhaps like a child that finds his fathers tools.

    I believe you to be correct that we cannot foresee what will happen as these species are reintroduced. I am excited about the current attempts to clone a Wooly mammoth and I imagine the successful attempts will be closely monitored and controlled. The specimens will be kept in a closed park and observed. Several procedures and policies will be put in place to keep them in check. Of course there is no guarantee of success and the control may very well fail.

    On a counter argument. Humans have been putting evolution and nature out of balance for a very long time. Whaling, lumber industry, farming, dams, etc. I agree we can not predict what will happen exactly, but we can predict that nature will adapt and find its own balance. That balance may be the extinction of another species (perhaps our own) but nature and life will adapt. Maybe the radical procedure of cloning will force us to take a closer look at something we have been doing for thousands of years. ie, messing with nature.
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      Mar 15 2013: Thanks for your input Leo. I gotta admit, as a photographer I am shuddering at the idea of maybe one day being able to take a pic of a Wooly Mammoth, that wouyld just be cool. But as it is for you, this is coming from the part of the brain that insists that it is ok to take advantage of a situation and satisfy a personal greed. As we consider history, this assumption of blindly satisfying personal wants and desires at any cost, is what destroyed the cod fishery on the east coast, and clear cut every tree from my home province of British Columbia at the turn of the century, and a thousand other examples we are all painfully aware of.

      We are supposed to know better now. We are supposed to see ourselves as stewards and caretakers of our world. That said ... a Wooly Mammoth ... be a great image.

      We must be aware of the dichotomy within ourselves. Ignorance, or a single sided viewpoint IS our history! Are we preferring to continue on this path of self satisfaction at all costs (my Mammoth image or a bird persons desire to see the passenger pigeon) or stop ourselves and consider the unforeseen and unknowable possibility of damage due to reintroduction? Should we simply rely on your well said "nature will create balance" argument?

      Good points, well said, thank you
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        Mar 15 2013: Perhaps I was unclear in my post. While I think it would be neat to see a wooly mammoth I do not link that emotion of anticipation to an argument which justifies the end at any costs. Nor do I believe that natures ability to balance herself is a reason to move ahead blindly. Quite the opposite, I believe we should keep it in mind that if we push to far, nature will react, and it could mean the end of our species. NO compassion, NO reprieve..... It will just be done.

        You may have to clarify what you mean by a dichotomy. My first impression is that you may be saying the dichotomy is self interest (Self satisfaction) which does not exist with a mindset of concern for the ramifications. If that is what you are saying, it is not a belief I share. I do not see it as a dichotomy. Either, or, but not both.
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          Mar 15 2013: I think we are actually agreeing with each other.
          " While I think it would be neat to see a wooly mammoth I do not link that emotion of anticipation to an argument which justifies the end at any costs."
          I couldn't agree more.
          What I was mentioning was our cultures propensity to consume, even though we know the thing we want to consume, may be not good for the environment, or created in a way that is not good for the environment ... we still want and consume it.

          Look around the room your in, how many things there were harmful in the manufacturer or transport to get it to you? I admit, most things in my room here, had an impact of some kind.

          I did not intend to sound like the anticipation of wooly mammoth.jpg, justifies the steps to attain it. I started this conversation to question this very thing. Is missing the pigeon enough to justify this science?

          My point was as you said, it be neat to see, but I have no difficulty moving from that thought to accepting I wont get that image because of the consequences (assuming there would be some) of having a living breathing Mammoth. You and I have no difficulty of transitioning from the one thought to the other, the reality is there would be others that would have difficulty with that leap. The end may justify the means for some.

          I thought I miss chose the word dichotomy, but a quick reference check and I confirm it does work. The mammoth would be neat to see, but the costs of actually doing it is, or may not, be worth it, but it would still be neat to see. This by definition is a dichotomous set of tangents. Even if we print our protest boards, and actively march on Washington to stop this 'travesty' (thereby choose a side and act on it)... part of us would still think ... it would have been cool to see. Jurassic Park the concept and the movie ... bad idea, but I'll see the movie. I hope you understand that. Thanks for continuing to share here, and on other comments. Appreciated.

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