TED Conversations

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 16 2013: The question assumes that whatever it is that we re-create will live.
    Take the human body: humans have ten times more bacteria than human cells. How do microbial communities affect human health?"

    "The human microbiome (or human microbiota) is the aggregate of microorganisms that reside on the surface and in deep layers of skin, in the saliva and oral mucosa, in the conjunctiva, and in the gastrointestinal tracts. They include bacteria, fungi, and archaea. Some of these organisms perform tasks that are useful for the human host. However, the majority have been too poorly researched to understand the role they play."

    Bacterial cells in the body outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1. Yet only recently have researchers begun to elucidate the beneficial roles these microbes play in fostering health.
    Some of these bacteria possess genes that encode for beneficial compounds that the body cannot make on its own. Other bacteria seem to train the body not to overreact to outside threats.
    Advances in computing and gene sequencing are allowing investigators to create a detailed catalogue of all the bacterial genes that make up this so-called microbiome.
    Unfortunately, the inadvertent destruction of beneficial microbes by the use of antibiotics, among other things, may be leading to an increase in autoimmune disorders and obesity.

    And this is all we know about humans. Bringing something back into existents faces the challenge of whether the complexity in microbiota.

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