Join us on         

Question Your World: Can We Bring Back the Extinct?

Every living thing on this planet is subject to evolution and extinction. The natural evolutionary process dictates the beginning and end of various species. So, what happens when we start to advance our technological capabilities and introduce the process of de- extinction? Here’s the latest Question Your World Radio Report from the Science Museum of Virginia.

For about 200,000 years humans have been functioning as an intelligent species here on earth. In those 200,000 years we’ve been able to use our brain to create and offset massive biological changes. We live longer, eat healthier, live safer, impact the environment, can help or harm fragile species, and now we are dabbling with the concept of human influenced genetic changes.

Hollywood films like The Fly, Attack of the Clones, and Jurassic Park put the issues of technology and genetics in the spotlight. This is not the first time that fiction has introduced foreign concepts to the masses. In 1902 a French film, Trip to the Moon, showed audiences a story about humans getting in a vessel and leaving Earth to land on the moon. Strange and impossible at the time, but a few decades later that exact concept graced newspapers across the planet when Apollo 11 touched down on the lunar surface. Similarly, scientists around the world have been working on some research that could make Jurassic Park style genetics a distant but feasible possibility.

From cloning a sheep to vital organ transplants, scientists have been slowly working on extending or even creating life by using research and technology. Recently the news seems to have picked up a little and the process of de-extinction is now a hot topic among the science community. Some current discussions include issues about bringing back old species, understanding pre-historic genetics, and even the natural re-growth of once extinct plant life. Russian and Korean scientists have started to work on the concept of using mammoth DNA and fostering a birth through an elephant mother. They’re not there yet, but are currently hoping for a five year goal. In other news, American and Australian geneticists have been busy mapping the full genome of a 700,000 year old horse that was frozen in a glacier. And lastly, without any lab intervention, pre-historic plant life has started to grow back in the northern parts of our planet due to glacial melt. 

The issue of de-extinction is one that we have been considering in science fiction for a long time, but it appears that the topic is currently upon us in real life. Now the big question is...should we do this? Stay tuned as research and development continues.

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

Discover more stories like this at Science Matters and like us on Facebook.