De-Extinction: Are We Playing God Or What?

In 1993, we learned what happens when you cultivate dinosaur eggs to create a real-life dinosaur-themed amusement park. Thanks to Jurassic Park, I will never listen to the rain gently hitting the roof of my car the same way ever again. Like all great sci-fi films and stories, there is always an element of possibility behind the grandiose special effects and ideas. For instance, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is not far from our technological advances today; we now have the capability to travel from one part of the world to another in less than two hours, genetically modify and engineer food, and even design ideal human babies. Uh, yikes. More than ever, we are finally living the sci-fi dream: touch-screen phones, flying cars, space travel, robots that travel to Mars and set up mining operations, and more. Are we getting ahead of ourselves, here? More importantly, are there consequences to playing Creator?

Currently, the term and idea of “de-extinction” is being explored and discussed as a viable environmental project. “De-extinction” is the ability to take a genome of an extinct animal and convert it into workable DNA by using living DNA of the closest relative of the said extinct animal. There is actual talk of bringing the woolly mammoth back to life using elephant DNA and their bodies as surrogates.

Supposedly, molecular biologists are not 100% certain that it’s even possible to bring the dead (species) back to life. It’s been done on a smaller scale, but the ability to create a living animal out of dead genome is still questionable. Ten years ago, a team of French and Spanish scientists worked together to create and bring back an extinct wild goat. The Frankengoat only lived for ten minutes. However, that was ten years ago, and much has changed since then. Our technology is tremendous, and we have the capability to do almost anything. According to The Huffington Post, we are crazy close to waking the dead: “the technology is so close and accelerating so rapidly that major steps toward reversing extinction can be expected in this decade.”

Does this mean that Florida is going to open a real Jurassic Park that includes rides on an Apatosaurus? Probably not. The essence of dinosaurs is so long gone, that the resurrection of the species is just not possible. And this is okay with me. However, scientists are hoping to bring back the dodo, the elephant bird (which is super cute, by the way), the mastodon, as well as at least a dozen more species.

Can we benefit from species restoration? By discovering a way to restore species that long ago died out (due to climate change, evolution, and ourselves), we could potentially find a way to protect endangered species, preserve biodiversity and rejuvenate diminishing ecosystems.

A major problem with playing God is that we are going against how nature inherently works. This is where things have the potential to go haywire; it’s like the science fair project that blows up in our face. According to basic Darwinian principles, animals survive due to their ability to adapt, and the animals that can not do so slowly die away. I won’t say that we are not the root cause of the extinction of many species. This is still a major issue that needs to be addressed. But I’m not sure if it’s ethical to bring back what we’ve destroyed, either. What’s done is done, and playing with life so flippantly could cause major repercussions, since it’s certainly not natural to genetically engineer a dead species. Furthermore, if these species are introduced back into the wild, it’s uncertain how they’ll function with other animals now that the world has passed them by. For example, the elephant bird was around 12 feet tall. If we place it back in its natural habitat, how do we know it won’t start chowing down on all its evolved little cousins?

Is this project too big of a leap for mankind? Are we ready for such a huge ethical and technological endeavor? I guess we’ll see what happens.

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