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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  • Apr 2 2013: Managed in the proper context and proven viable to be re inhabitable I think we should for numerous reasons, of which I will only bore you with two. One, the ability to create prehistoric natural world environments here on earth to reverse some of the ecological disasters we have wrought in the name of progress would be beautiful now and for future generations of humans to become involved with in many ways. Gardens of Eden would be nice to have and begin developing now for us to be in awe of and future generations of humans to be amazed with.

    Secondly if the is any hope for survival of the human species beyond this planets multitude of ecosystems we need to know how to safely implement species together like soups in a recipe here before we can consider doing it elsewhere like Mars in the next century. The ability to resuscitate DNA of an individual does not amaze me, the ability to safely create and reintroduce an entire species to modern times will be a phenomenal process to witness for us as a species to know what is truly possible.

    This coupled with the recent discovery of the Higgs Particle basically should have numerous theologians scratching their collective heads and asses wondering which side of the spiritual coin to stand on? Continue a life emulating a concept of God that seems irrelevant, or become Gods and learn to create our own Garden of Edens? Both pursuits are valid, however, I usually am rendered silent more often with science than religion.

    Just a thought,
    • Apr 3 2013: These scientists are not sure whats going to happen when they introduce extinct DNA to a host. One scientist said that the offspring have defects and they die quickly after birth.There is a reason for that....something is missing in the transference of the DNA. These scientists are not bringing a species back from extinction. They are creating a new species. Bypassing natural selection and evolution could have a catastrophic impact on our ecosystem. The introduction of a mutated germ that can be transmitted from a new species to another species is a possibility. Man has seen in quick, isolated incidents how quickly a pandemic can occur. Playing God and Being God is two different things.


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