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David Johnson

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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 15 2013: Carolyn, you have bought up points very worthy of clarification.
      First to be clear, I have no ill thought towards Brand and his colleagues, or any scientist working towards betterment, improvement or extension of life itself. It is their job to continuously reach far ahead and wonder ... what if? Can we? and How do I? We will always hold a debt of gratitude to the work of science. If we lower the boom requiring them to consider every angle of ethical consideration regarding their work, they will not be able to reach ahead and find questions for themselves to answer. They would be tied down. No one wants that.

      It is not their responsibility to limit themselves by questions of ethics, unless a question is raised (in a forum like this) that science can answer. We want them to accurately interpret data when asked to balance a question like this, and have no opinion when their data does not hold the answer.

      Where I understand your use of the phrase collective fear or anxiety at what you read here, I wonder about your sadness about our responses to the de-extinction. Should we not discuss the consequences? Should we not consider that we have a choice to initiate this program? Should we give the scientists (whom you and I appreciate equally) carte blanche? As you said, they are not academics, and they should not be. Do we need an academic forum to take this responsibility from science and discuss this? I think we should.

      Having awareness and facilitating discussion does not equate fear. Clear understanding of potential consequences in this case means sifting through data, and making a decision based on scientific reality. Suggesting this be done, is not fear ... its just good science.
      Thank you for sharing.

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