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?

  • Apr 6 2013: My response is quite simple. I am neither a scientist or deep thinker, so I merely quote my favorite author who penned a wonderful book called Pet Semetary, "They Never Come Back The Same." Stephen King. We may think they are, but they aren't.
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    Mar 15 2013: If the supporting ecosystem is not available to the species revived and restored, then it's totally pointless.
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      Mar 15 2013: If we want the revived species' to live in the wild, you're right. Otherwise, it doesn't matter in the slightest.
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        Mar 15 2013: So revived animals are OK as curiosities in a zoo or as live museum exhibits just for our own delectation?

        Isn't this a display of science being too focused in on its own cleverness and not seeing the big picture?

        Unless science can see beyond the end of its own nose and go further in preserving/recreating ecosystems for the revived species, then I still say it's pointless.
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    Mar 14 2013: In the natural science world, one would consider extinction as a natural process to evolution. Man has had much influence on the world and could be the direct result of the annihilation of many species to come.

    To have the ability to create what has not yet been created is what motivates and drives our very existence. To recreate, that is quite different. For science to know that we have the ability to recreate a "sustained" life would be, by far, a great achievement. However, in my opinion, to actually do this, is not necessary to the benefit of mankind or for the extinction of the species given.

    In a most desperate move to provide nourishment or to assist in sustaining humans by medical means, the use of recreation would benefit our very existence. I could then foresee that there would be wider acceptance of the processes.

    As we overpopulate our planet, pollute it, abuse it etc., in generations to come, it may be the only way of survival for our own species. It truly is a matter of great importance to ponder upon. ~ Leslie
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      Mar 15 2013: Thank you Leslie. You write with clarity and eloquence.

      In my blundering simplicity I would say "today a bird ... tomorrow grandma"
      You remind us that these two acts are certainly related.

      The question takes on a greater importance considering the possible future implications.

      Should we allow this?
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        Mar 15 2013: This is a concern to a point, however I tend to shy away from these arguments. This is known as the "slippery slope" argument.

        If you allow people to drink, then they will smoke then they will do harder drugs and eventually become cocaine addicts. OR if you allow people to drink they will all become alcoholics.

        Should we allow grandmas to be cloned. Perhaps not, but we do a decent job or reigning in the extremes and while people can point to the extremes. eg. A gun owner that shoots children, That does not necessitate that owning a gun will eventually a person will shoot children.

        Actually, this is a better example of the slippery slope argument.


        With my current ideals I believe that whatever path we take should be monitored and agreed to by a majority of our moral codes and ethics of the time, coupled with the current scientific understanding of the era. With that said, If scientists announced tomorrow that anyone could have their grandma cloned for $10,000 a majority of the planet would say "NO!" And then pass laws to prevent it.
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          Mar 15 2013: Your final paragraph, very nicely said.
        • Mar 15 2013: Well there is a difference between the slippery slope argument in a debate, and actual science. I mean we definitely have a better idea on how alcoholism can affect a person's life than how introducing this newly developed species into the wild has on it. I think the argument above is more justified through the "precautionary principle" of environment science and can be easily mistaken as a bad argument.
          In situations like this we really need to consider the worse, worse case scenario and be prepared to react to it accordingly.
    • Mar 15 2013: I cannot agree more with your point of acceptance based upon need. Although cold, humans are often motivated by their own best interest. If there is no benefit for the human race I too see no reason why the majority would support the research and funding in order to recreate. Your worst-case scenario tackles this need for self interest.

      Personally I view this situation as a catch-22. Without developing the technology now because we do not need it, the science might not be perfected by the time we actually do need and want it.
      • Mar 15 2013: There is a potential business interest in here though, since if species can be recreated from genetic leftover material, this technology can definitely be used to replenish endangered species as well. With that you create the possibility to "grow" things like ivory and skins in a lab or "controlled ecosystem" that is virtually impossible to distinguish from the natural ones.
        I think this is enough for the investors to be interested in this technology, especially those that are worried about the "ops, we just killed the last one" scenarios.
  • Mar 23 2013: In medicine, in particular, and other areas of society we have a tendency to treat superficial symptoms and not the underlying causes.

    In my opinion, this is an attempt to treat a symptom of a greater issue, one which I would rather resources and efforts were spent on resolving. I think possession of this technology would one day be potentially beneficial but at the moment we are simply not ready.

    I also agree with some of the other comments that, as humans, it is irresponsible for us to play with things we don't fully understand. For example, by a simple change in perception we can see how, perhaps, we have in fact benefited other species on this planet by eradicating their natural enemies which may cause a chain reaction in an ecosystem, thereby providing opportunity for other species and even enforcing the Darwinian "survival of the fittest".

    The point being, we are asking the wrong questions and need to start asking the right questions. We know we can do it. Whether we should do it or not, we probably will anyway. So perhaps the correct question is whether doing this will truly benefit and serve humanity as well as the planet? Is this in our best interests?

    P.S. I've never considered some these points before but I would like to accredit Dr John F. DeMartini with new insight.
  • Mar 19 2013: It seems to me that much of the damage that we have already done was due to unintended consequences.

    We KNOW that we do not understand the consequences of bringing back extinct species.

    This is a text book example of irresponsibility. Good intentions are irrelevant.

    Deliberate irresponsibility amounts to insanity.
  • Mar 24 2013: My gut reaction to this question is no. It almost seems like torture. It's not bad enough that us humans have wiped them out, but now we're going to bring them back... Why? So we can wipe them out again? As others have said we're not ready. We haven't quite finished raping this world yet, & we've got countless other species still in our cross hairs.

    Our focus should be waking up as a species. To save what still remains & stop our population growth. Only then, when we're in harmony with the rest of the natural world, can we discuss whether or not to reintroduce what was lost.
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    Mar 23 2013: I recommend, to broaden our view, the book 1493. A long, cautionary look at how we transformed what was here, for the most part without a hope of guiding the consequences. In half a century we have left untouched mere traces of a former natural world.

    Resurrecting the carrier pigeon still seems to me a self-indulgence. Devote the same resources to ending hunger and ending the carnage it wreaks via epigenetics on young minds, perhaps even future generations.
  • Mar 23 2013: I feel there are serious ethical considerations that need to be discussed when it comes to creating life and/ or recreation of life forms no longer on the planet. Ethics in this matter seems to not be a strong dialogue and it is worrisome. I am in the health profession and have seen many issues arise from transplantation of organs to preserve and restore individuals lives/ health. There are many issues in this process around ethics that still are just pushed to the back ground and not opening debated or discussed. I do hope that there is more long term effect questions, considerations, and discussions that will occur before action is taken (though I suspect there has already been action taken).
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    Mar 18 2013: I think Allen Macdougall hit the nail on the head. The vast majority of extinction is due to habitat loss. Without dealing with with the loss of habitat and damage to ecosystems there is no point in cloning extinct animals. All of pressures that brought it too extinction still exist. Unless we can fix the causes of extinction in the first place, we shouldn't devote the resources to a doomed project.

    We need to focus one helping preserve ecosystems as a whole, not individual species.
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    Mar 15 2013: I think one important question which should be asked regarding the de-extinction project is what's the real motivation in doing this project.

    The sub-divisions of this question are: Do the scientists want to improve our surroundings, improve the ecosystems, improve the chain-of-food in nature, heal the nature...etc ?? Or is it the scientists common ambition to demonstrate their scientific abilities and achievements, regardless of the possible consequences of the de-extinction ?? Or is it our general human regret & feelings of guilt for committing so much harm to the nature during the generations, that now we as a human race seek desperately every way to compensate the nature for the harm we have been doing to it for generations ??

    We as humans have exploited the animal kingdom recklessly to gratify our needs without heeding to the needs of the past nature. Is it possible that now we are restoring the animal kingdom back to the nature, just to gratify again our human ego, without again heeding to the real needs of the present nature ??
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      Mar 15 2013: Thank you for your thoughts and for joining the conversation Yubal.
      I would respond as I did below regarding the scientist perspective towards discovery.

      It is our scientists 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 literally be tied down by limitation.

      We need them to dream and test, and discover.
      The earth is not flat, nor the center of the universe. We know this as it was science that proved it so, even though initial proponents of these ideas were persecuted. We need not persecute science for this discovery, but discuss the next step.

      You ask; "is it the scientists common ambition to demonstrate their scientific abilities and achievements, regardless of the possible consequences of the de-extinction ?? "

      I would answer ... yes. It is their job to work theoretically and practically towards realization of an idea. It is their job to disseminate data and report possibilities, and they did that in this case at TED. It is our job to balance values, morals and ethics, and determine how discoveries should be mainstreamed ... or not.

      How should the world respond? What should be the format and who are the players involved to discuss how to proceed? That is the question.
  • Mar 15 2013: Not necessarily.
    We have fucked things up so badly, why in the world, or rather, how in the world do we
    rationally and honestly think we can "fix" things, "heal the damage we have done"?
    We can't. It is nothing more that human hubris believing we are more than we are
    and can do more than we have done.
    Haven't we done enough damage?
    Is that the game? Damage, destroy, make extinct and then see if we can fix it, reverse the effects or change the past
    somehow into the future?

    Based on how and what we have done, I would say the human species is basically a destructive, cruel,
    uncaring species that is totally self-centered to the degree it cannot and will not look at itself and arrive at the truth
    of itself, accepting that truth and simply stopping whatever they are doing.

    I mean, the truth is all around us. It is now global and moving in such a way that we cannot stop it nor reverse it and to
    think we can reveals just how mentally ill we are. We are still, and willingly so, disconnected from our connection to the earth, nature and our place here. Thinking we are somehow better is so foolish.
    If all the insects of the world passed from existence, all life would perish soon after.
    If all humans passed from existence, all life would thrive.
    That says it all and this won't work because it continues to pick at the wound we have inflicted on the planet and all it supports.

    "What a great idea!" Only an insane species would think so in light of the obvious footprints of destruction that clearly show what we have brought to the earth.
    It's like being out in nature on a wonderful path and seeing litter and garbage scattered everywhere.
    We can only clean it up. We can only stop all the shit we do.
    We cannot heal anything. We only make things worse.
    As long as we think we can, that is as long as we intentionally maintain our disconnect from nature, each other and life itself. We are destructive plain and simple.

    If we do this, we should then eliminate ourselves from earth.
    • Mar 15 2013: The argument itself is impeccable, but according to your logic we should all shoot ourselves in the head right this moment, but we are not. Why? Because we are not rational beings to begin with. This is a common mistake for many environmental extremists to claim that we are the cancer of this earth, i mean you're right, but that's only point out problems, not solutions, and solutions are what we need right now.
      Yes we have done so much damage to this world but that doesn't mean we can ONLY do damage to this world. It doesn't serve as a justification of not doing anything simply because we "fucked things up so bad". Reviving already extinct animals are definitely benefiting to the environment if it actually works out, and the emphasis is, if it actually works out. There are so many variable involved with the environment and even more so when dealing with delicate bio-technologies such as this one. The main concern for this topic should be how can we effectively simulate the effects of introducing pre-existing species to the environment before actually doing that.
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        Mar 15 2013: Hey thanks Daniel, you final question is great. I would like to add your question to the topic above, let me know if that's not ok.
      • Mar 15 2013: Daniel Chan,
        No where did I say we should all shoot ourselves in the head nor allude to that.
        We should stop what we are doing. What are we doing particularly Americans? Polluting, wasting resources, warring, invading, starving others, stealing the resources of other countries and so on.
        Well, maybe you're right. Maybe all Americans should all shoot themselves. They produce more damage, pollution, use more resources along with wasting more resources than any other country.
        Your comments are not something you know. You don't know what will benefit the ecologies of the world. We do know what damages them, ruins them, destroys them and so by that alone, you think we haughtily know what will fix everything?
        How prideful of you. Just stop. Stop. Why the fuck hasn't that been tried?
        You say, " The main concern for this topic should be how can we effectively simulate the effects of introducing pre-existing species to the environment before actually doing that."

        Just leave it alone! We can't effectively do any of that. Doing good at this time would only be in stopping what we are doing.
        But no, let's do this, let's see if we can figure that out, let's try this but never try stopping.
        That is hubris and nothing less and it is ruining everything.
        • Mar 15 2013: Random,
          The reason why we haven't stopped is because it's simply impossible. Our life is a motion, we breath, we eat, and we make babies. All those are essential living conditions for us and all those have an environmental impact by themselves.
          If you are talking about the modern society, then a lot more needs to be done in order to survive, the entire society is based on polluting the environment, actually the better wording would be that the entire society is based on "affecting" the environment, whether it is for the good, or for the worse, that is for us to decide.
          Yes I'm not denying that we messed up, of course we did, but I mean that doesn't mean we should all just give up on humanity and conclude that we are all evil masterminds that can't do no shit but mess things up further, at least for optimists like me? i believe that the world can at least still change for the better......to some degree :P
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      Mar 15 2013: Wow thanks Random, that would be one very certain vote against
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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.
  • Mar 14 2013: Another relevant question to the issue is just how good the regeneration technology can be. Brand makes a point in his talk that the technology wouldn't be perfect, but it would be close enough. While the cloning attempt in 2003 of the bucardo was initially successful, the baby bucardo only survived 10 minutes due to malformations in the lung. While that was 10 years ago and the ability to clone has allegedly increased, is it still right to bring a faulty species back?
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      Mar 14 2013: Spencer, thanks for your comment. You make a good point. I thought of this as well, but I had to edit the above down to fit the limit of text that the format provided.
      As well Brand was showing us the possibility for the pigeon, and said; "... the tail might not be as long as the passenger, but its pretty close".
      As you say 'close enough'. Just what does that mean, close enough?
      My thought; is it about bringing back an extinct species, or creating a new one, which is what close enough means to me?
      • Mar 15 2013: I see what you mean about creating a new species that is as close as possible. I also find it interesting to think about the morality of both bringing it back exactly and creating something that's close. Personally, I think most people would support bringing a species back (so an exact match) into the world if we took it out through our own actions. But the morality becomes much more controversial when we're effectively creating a new species. Given reactions to other artificial advancements (i.e cochlear implants) I feel there would be an outcry by some for going to far and "playing God".
  • Mar 14 2013: A mere 100 yrs is not enough time to alter the natural environment under "normal" conditions. It takes 1000s of yrs.
    To bring back animals that humans have destroyed & caused to become extinct is a wonderful idea. Of course I am a mere pigeon lover & wildlife lover in general. To release them back into the wild is also a wonderful idea, as long as it fits their needs. Helping nature regain some if its balance is always a good thing.
    I am not saying there might not be a down side to this but its down side would be much better then other scientific advances I have seen-like the bomb!
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      Mar 14 2013: Gale, thanks for adding your view to the conversation. The value in a debate is the apposing viewpoints.
      I realize I was pushing it a bit with the 100 year point, but the point is still valid. Adaptation of an ecosystem is slow, but it does begin almost immediately. Who is to say what the effect of the the loss of a species on an area at the plant and insect level.

      Lets hypothesize a scenario and keep it simplistic; the passenger pigeon disappears, a certain insect it would eat on mass during its migration explodes in population due to not having the passenger around. Another bird or small mammal adapts to include this abundant food source, and begins to thrive. We could even stretch it to consider the predator of this thriving bug munching / pro creating little guy. As we know from our Origin of Species learning in grade school, the ecosystem alters to keep all these populations in check.
      This does not take 1000's of years, but generations (decades). Now we reintroduce the passenger on mass. The bug, the bird or small mammal and the predator are all affected.

      How have we prioritized? Which species have we considered? Which one is more important?

      I will not disagree that a possibility of again seeing a living Passenger pigeon is a wonderful thing, but is it best for what is already there? I have to ask myself if it is our feeling or grief and responsibility over their loss alone, that is the fuel for doing this. I have to question any motive that is single sided. We have seen these mistakes before of introducing species that are not ... or may no longer be ... indigenous to the ecology of an area, for a single reason. We must consider all consequences, and guard against running headlong into a process that may drive another species extinct. Brand actually said in response to Chris' question "They may replace some birds that are there ..." To me, thats a yellow flag of concern.
      again, thanks for your comment, and I hope you respond back.
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    Apr 12 2013: I think before we ask should we, let us first know how. While caution is good, choosing to NOT pursue a scientific possibility because we fear the unknown is like resisting believing that the earth is round and NOT the center of the universe...(as far as we know. The universe is so large we can't truly know if we are indeed at the center or not)
  • Apr 10 2013: Man should evolve to the stage where he realises he needs to start woking with nature, not against it or trying to control it, before he becomes extinct.
  • Apr 9 2013: Not sure if this is a redundant comment, but there are three reasons I doubt it's beneficial:

    A species in decent numbers was a component part of a larger ecosystem when it thrived. The ecosystem adapts when a component species becomes extinct, so there's no way to re-introduce a species the the literal sense once enough time has passed. At best they would be a disruption to the ecosystem they are introduced back into, and definitely not a repair to it.

    From what I understand, any attempt at recreating an extinct creature is still just an approximation, DNA-wise, because of the influence of the hosts involved. Even if you could revive a "perfect" male and female from separate source stock, re-establishing enough numbers to maintain viability in the wild would involve so much inbreeding that the resulting gene pool would be compromised anyway.

    Higher-order mammals like mammoths may have had behaviors that were taught, not carried by instinct, and without the learned traits that characterized the species at its peak, what would we be restoring but a template without the proper instructions?
  • Apr 8 2013: that was once such technology which helps to build the community to grow positively
  • Apr 8 2013: Its a difficult question.
    i think we should re install the extinct species to harness the environment.
    also its important to create a balance in the environment.
    i personally as a shooter and use a lot of firearms and guns and ammunition.
    earlier every body would prefer hunting..
    but nowadays its different.
    where i live in india.. there is a lot of hunting which happens..
    in competitive sport only eurpoeans manufacturer electronic targets.. and now i found this company which is building.. one and using technology we not only divert the attention of extinction but also give a root cause needs to be addressed..
    when ppl have affordable things at home to train on and practice.. the use of guns on animals will be automatically reduced.. its important to channelise the energy
  • Apr 8 2013: Do we have the information needed to assess the potential consequences of ANY science?
  • Apr 6 2013: :) I read, Science is developing the tools towards extinction of species on the planet become extinct. The question becomes; Should we? dyslexia!

    In answer to your actual question, "should we rewrite history, probably not but then pandoras box is wide open and cannot be closed, we can either fear change or embrace it"
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      Apr 6 2013: Thank you for clarifying.
      Your point brings up the question regarding "we can either fear change or embrace it";
      Does that mean we should not maintain control of our choices as to how change occurs?
      - We burn oil, even though we know the consequences, be it right or wrong.
      - We develop medicine to save lives, which we believe is right.
      We need not fear change, but we should make informed choices regarding change, that's what this conversation is all about.
      Do we have the information needed to assess the potential consequences of this science?
      That's not fear, just good science.
  • Apr 6 2013: Please watch the following Video, at the bottom of the page, the end section on Watson making medical decisions then I have to ask how many steps away are we from such a computer desciding, promoting, enabeling that it is ethical to carry out medical testing on humans, I mean for the good of mankind?: http://blog.ted.com/2013/04/05/how-did-supercomputer-watson-beat-jeopardy-champion-ken-jennings-experts-discuss/
  • mary T

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    Apr 6 2013: Do you think the circumstances that led to extinction in the first place would drive a second extinction? Or, are you envisioning samples of species kept in a zoo? I'm pretty sure there is a Twilight Zone episode about this.

    I vote for the carrier pigeon! Let flocks darken the skies!
  • Apr 6 2013: Suggest to de-extinguish Neanderthal man and give them another chance to wipe out Cro-Magnon man (us) and start civilisation all over again.
  • Apr 4 2013: Okay Ladies and Gentleman . Personally I don't think that this is a bad idea because of the arguments I will provide you with.

    First of all , if they manage to resurrect / revive the extinct animals , don't you think that they will be able to prevent and avoid the endangered species to become extinct? I mean that will be really fantastic because there will be no more endangered species because they can easily be revived.

    Secondly , I think by reviving this EXTINCT animals means that we and our next generation can see for their self the most ancient animals and they will know what the animals in the past really looks like and their behaviour and many more to learn.

    Then don't you think this will have a big impact to the economics side? because as we know the one that killing this endangered animals or even the extinct animals. People hunt them because of their beauty, some because of their horns , some because of their skins, some even for their meats, well I say if we can revive this animals afterwards then there will be no fear of extinction and we can sell it to rich people to earn profits to help the country. Isn't that right ladies and gentleman?

    Well I think I've already provided you with all the thoughts and arguments in my mind for this time being. Thank you very much !!!!
  • Apr 3 2013: I would agree with most of what you are addressing, however when it comes to probable disaster theories and global science catastrophes, I am not a fan for many reasons, and will share with you a few reasons why. For starters nuclear annihilation fears which permeated the air (and aids) with fear of occurring at any moment during the 80's. the 90's brought the fear of computer controlled and dominated disasters culminating with Y2K to roll into the millennium. Which brings us to 2012 and the fact that some dude in central Mexico got thirsty and tired of hammering out a long count calendar on stone, and end up having the world on pins and needles a half century later?

    Now as a species we are beginning to our limits to what we can and cannot control, seen and unseen,micro or macro, we are doing so at exponential speed in multitudes of arenas? How long do you think the shelf life of Google glass will be? How long do you think the eight track players shelf life was?

    I think of all the innovations and advancements that have come with precursors and warnings, and think of the neigh sayers and laugh at how fast we become hind sightseers.
  • 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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    Apr 1 2013: I acknowledge we're not discussing dinosaurs, but I believe Jurassic Park explored this question and had a good message. In the first movie, the dinosaurs were made all female so they couldn't reproduce. The characters ended up finding a nest of eggs. The scientists felt they had everything under control, but something slipped by them. The DNA for the dinosaurs was extracted from mosquitoes, and the missing pieces were filled in with frog DNA. Some African frogs can change sex in ubiquitously single-sex environments. So the premise was that nature found a way, because the scientists clearly didn't know everything.

    In the second movie, they explore an island of free roaming dinosaurs. Originally the dinosaurs were designed to be lycopene-dependent, the idea being that they would die if they weren't administered lycopene by the scientists. The surprise was that lycopene is found in most plants, and the dinosaurs had flourished. (science is full of surprises)

    I really do think that movie was brushing upon a facet of reality. I can see a scientist, amazed by what he knows so far, dive into a project that opens a can of worms, at worst a pandora's box for the planet. In Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm emphasized that dinosaurs had their time and would be out of place today. He was a proponent of chaos theory - the idea that the smallest changes in initial conditions can yield extremely different outcomes in the end, rendering long-term predictions impossible. With science, we find ourselves in control of things we couldn't dream of a generation ago, and we're going to dive right in and screw things up. We can discuss whether or not we should, but we can't stop the wave of technology. All that's possible will be explored, exploited, sold and monopolized. People will be controlled and will control others. New beings and creatures of all shapes and sizes will be created. The law will be far behind the technology, and enforcement impossible. The best we can do is understand it.
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    Mar 30 2013: This whole argument is not so theoretical as everyone is making it. We brought the peregrine falcon (one of the most beautiful and evolved species on the planet) back from the edge of extinction. In California there was only a handful of birds thirty years ago and now there is a healthy self sustaining population thru the banning of certain pesticides and captive breeding and release of birds. The environment is not so messed up as all of the hand wringers would have you believe. We just have to be careful and watchful. If we brought the passenger pigeon back I'm sure it would do just fine (and provide an additional food source for peregrines by the way). Of more of a concern to me is what happens when they start bringing neanderthals back.
    • Mar 30 2013: Hey, I'm a Neanderthal and I resemble that remark!
  • Mar 30 2013: A concern of mine is that they're talking about growing, say, a tasmanian devil or what-have-you in the womb of a wolf - something nearly-related. So I'm wondering about inter-species DNA mingling, (we don't un'erstand this stuff yet).
    Also of concern is what they're gonna do with this recently unearthed King of England - is he gonna want his position back?
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    Mar 29 2013: Possibly It's intelligent evolution that we don't even understand, like life is getting ready to revert back to the dinosar age, as the dawn of time starts over again, after mankind blows up his planet over political differences.
  • Mar 28 2013: I have no problem with bringing them back since we humans drove 99% of them to extinction. However, where are they going to go? The collective 7.2 billion of us have destroyed most of their habitat, which is typically one of the primary reasons they went extinct in the first place. I don't think we should bring anything back just because we can, especially if they have no quality of life upon their return. No zoo for you, Smilodon.
  • Mar 26 2013: As we move even closer to understanding the truth about life, its origins and where we are heading and as we uncover the myth of religion that should be questioned, should we discuss what benefits science can offer from reintroduction of extent species or our own possible extinction?
    With technology allowing accurate and speedy communication in the developed World an open debate would speed this process up by offering people a chance to discuss their fears and misconceptions in relation to the above.
    Science is the true leader of all nations and the challenge for mankind must be to better understand the mistakes of the past and the development of our future.
    Religion, money and power are aids to survival, mankind is in great need of a more balanced approach to his problems than the one offered by politicians. If we believe there is good in the reintroduction of extinct species then we will embrace the move, if we think we can benefit from it then we will endorse it!
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    Mar 24 2013: It's going to be a tough road to hoe with reintroduction of passenger pigeons back into the wild, assuming de-extinction works. At best, they will be captive in zoos and museums for years. The extinction clock was ticking for the last wild birds around 1890 because of their low numbers. And in captivity they did not produce offspring.
  • Mar 23 2013: Of course there are going to be ecological ramifications if extinct species are reintroduced, but there isn't any way to set up a model to predict them. Is it likely to affect our own survival on the planet. Not likely, I think. So from the standpoint of undoing the damage the human race has wreaked on too many species on our planet, I say yes, let's proceed with caution. Reintroduction isn't likely to be an easy thing to do anyway considering how we have squandered most of the resources these species depended on anyway.
  • Mar 23 2013: This is not so much a matter of ecosystems and the environment and how the species will affect that. It is much larger than that, delving into a realm they should not enter: creation. As God created the world for humans and gave us dominion over it, we realized that the world around us, all things living and unliving, are here for our purposes of life on earth. They do not come with us to the afterlife, nor do they serve a grand purpose in the scheme of things. As they are created by God, we should not ruthlessly kill those living things, but we should not revive them as well. For if there was some peculiar reason that they should still be in existence, God through his grace would have intervened to keep them alive. That is not the case for those animals, and we have no reason to question God's motives, for our intellect is not on His supreme level. Therefore it is not in our right as human beings to "play God" and recreate these species of animals.
    • Mar 28 2013: Mike, why do you believe God put living organisms (other than humans) on this earth solely "for our purposes?" Perhaps our God-given mission here was to be stewards of the planet instead of rapists? And we DID ruthlessly kill many of the now extinct species, did we not? We therefore played God, right? Should we now consider making amends to God by restoring His creation? What if God does not intervene in circumstances on earth but is leaving it up to us (as stewards)? I don't see any problem with fixing what we've broken, and don't believe God would, either.
  • Mar 22 2013: ya,but inovations should be ecofriendly.then only it ll be usefull for the whole world...................
  • Mar 21 2013: If its planned and not rushed into then maybe. To some extent. If it works. But its not good risking destroying current ecosytems. I think its ok if its not taken too far.
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    Mar 21 2013: As long as they are from our timeline sure, and only if it is from the cause of men. Outside of that I am pretty sure Jurassic Park gave us a good frame of reference of why we should not out of our timeline.
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    Mar 19 2013: I completely agree that it is a "gamble" (in my opinion, very low risk compared to others we are currently engaged in) but, as it obvious, it is human nature to gamble. Many of the greatest of human events were or are based in very high risk gambles and occasionally we lose a round. However, in the case of de-extinction I, not only I think we should, but I think we must.

    To be blunt, we owe the biomes that we humans have decimated (or worse) reparation and it is in our own best interests to keep up the biodiversity of the planet. It is my opinion that if we have learned anything from the past gambles, it is some of the things to watch out for. (no one ever dreamed that a few rabbits in Australia would ever be the kind of problem that they are now but we may not do that again (one hopes).
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    Mar 18 2013: Since the beginning of our existence as a species, proto-humans and humans have been concerned with killing huge numbers of animals of many types for food and, more recently, for pleasure. It only seems appropriate that now we are developing the technology to undo the vast amount of damage that we and our long line of ancestors did. In the past several millennia human population has grown, in my opinion, totally out of control causing vast damage to habitats and to the populations of the other species on the planet. It is time for a wakeup call by which we must realize the planet's biosphere must be shared with others for the heath and safety of all beings whatever their niche. De-extinctions should become a major environmental priority across the globe.

    As with all human activities, there will be mistakes, dumb errors, and even misuses, yet the net result of revitalizing and re-diversifying the world's biomes seems to me to be one of the most positive and productive humanity can engage in.
    • Mar 19 2013: "the net result of revitalizing and re-diversifying the world's biomes seems to me to be one of the most positive and productive humanity can engage in."

      We have no way of knowing in advance what the net result will be. This project would be a huge gamble.
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    Mar 18 2013: Why bring back an ecosystem that can't survive in the current or future climate changed planet? How do we change such ecosystems to be fast adapters? I would love to see the Moa brought back just to see it studied but it existed in a time when most of my country was forest Oh, and the Haast Eagle, the largest eagle to have once lived, if any of it's DNA could ever be located.
  • Mar 18 2013: I would say no. As much devastation that occurred when they went extinct would repeat itself, causing their environments to be turned upside down again.

    Now, if it's an extremely important animal, I would be inclined to say that they should be brought back if possible, but in the most careful, delicate way they could so as to provide as little shock as possible to their respective ecosystems.
  • Mar 17 2013: This premise rather reminds me of the first SciFi story I read as a youngster: "A Sound of Thunder" by Robert Heinlein. In the story, he project how returning from the past with a dead butterfly profoundly affects the timeline of the story's present. Perhaps we should leave extinction alone. While I'm not sure anyone is playing god (IF there really is a god), but we would be manipulating existing species and who can tell how that will alter the future of our planet.
    • Mar 21 2013: you are talking about the butterfly effect and in it basically says that we should not change the past because we do not know if or how it will change the present/ future. This causes backlash against the same theory because the change can be good or bad if there is even a change
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    Mar 16 2013: I method of cloning and things like that is immoral. Science shouldn't play God, it is not their role
    • Mar 21 2013: Sometimes humanity was the one who killed the species in the first place what if they are merely trying to undo humaity's murder
  • Mar 16 2013: One of the many concerns I have is that the remaining species on this planet are being squeezed everywhere by development, deforestation & human encroachment. We are fighting a losing battle for the elephants, rhino, tigers, lions .. to name only the iconic species. I think our priority right now should be to ensure their survival.
  • Mar 16 2013: We should.....but not now.....We barely have our shit together as a species that is lucky enough to have consciousness. A larger question is.......Inasmuch as we have this type of technology and smarts, to reverse extinction, HOW is it that we are still dependent upon fossil fuels which drive our own species in the general direction of extinction? The Paradox blows my mind.
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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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      Mar 16 2013: We will infer from your comments, one vote on the 'for' side. Thank you for speaking your mind, thats what this is all about.
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    Mar 15 2013: De-extinction - what's the point?

    by way of example....

    if a loved one is killed unjustly, and with technology you can bring a body to life which is identical to hers, is it her? no, it's not. She is lost forever. You cannot reproduce an individual and take back the harm that was done to her. She is gone.

    In a similar way, those animals killed because of a combination of greed and cruelty and stupidity cannot be brought back. We can bring back replacements, copies in body only, but those replacements don't in any way balance the moral ledger.

    What purpose does a replacement Dodo serve? Would they be kept in captivity, on display, furthering our own selfish interests instead of the interests of the animal?
    • Mar 15 2013: Well you can't technically compare human beings and animals in this way (sorry! all of y'all animal rights peps out there) we have a concious, and it is arguable the animals lack in that aspect in many ways and our conciousness is really what defines us from one another.
      On the other hand we are not trying to "balance the moral ledger", this is pure science, the ecosystem is not healthy right now, pointing fingers is not going to solve anything, nor is feeling bad about it. But here is a practicaly way of undoing what has been done, now that's a practical solution.
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        Mar 15 2013: In your mind I may not be able to validly do a comparison, but it's clear to me. Many animals have some level of conscousness - they feel and can be driven insane. As for those engaged in pure science, well they are not exempt from ethics either. The notion that they are not is pure BS.

        I am all for trying to keep nature in balance, and this includes preventing further extinctions of animal and plants which are on the edge, and not harming animals in general. My point was about the animals which are extinct, who are long gone, for which harm has already been done. It isn't at all clear that we understand enough to know how to introduce these animals back into nature so that balance is better restored, if that is even the objective. We already know many ways to help with nature's balance, not the least of which is dramatically reducing our footprint on this planet by way of population control measures.
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    Mar 15 2013: Why not? Without resorting to fear-mongering or idle speculation about what "might" happen, give me one reason why we shouldn't.
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      Mar 15 2013: If I may respond in kind Christopher:
      Why should we?
      Without resorting to emotive based feelings of loss or grief for the extinct species, or as a response to feelings of responsibility for driving them to extinction in the first place, or even quoting non existent scientific proof that guarantees that biodiversity itself would be repaired if reintroduced ... why should we?
      Not quite that simple is it? Some people are bound by fear, others by hope, is this the real debate?
      Thanks for sounding in.
      • Mar 18 2013: And by the damage done by mankind now which will be even more in the future I'd say preserve as much as we can and keep mother nature as she is now and let herself decide whether some species are allowed to live after we re-introduce extinct species back to nature.
    • Mar 19 2013: 'Without resorting to fear-mongering or idle speculation about what "might" happen,'

      Not considering what might happen is exactly how many species became extinct.

      That attitude is irresponsible and childish. "Lets just do it and see what happens" might be acceptable in your kitchen, but it is unethical when a whole ecosystem is involved.
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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.