Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Return From Extinction

Recently I posted a news article from NBC on the discovery of another Woolly Mammoth found in the Arctic.  While it wasn't new information for the general public, this discovery, I believe, has some merit on what's currently being done with our cloning technology.  I know it sounds all science fiction'ish, but it's happening.  Today's article is linking two similiar ideas together that I have been researching over this past year.  One deals with the Woolly Mammoth and genetic material while the other is on a zebra that was previously extinct and brought back to the African landscape with some selective breeding/DNA technique.  None of this is made up and sounds straight out of Jurassic Park, but it's not only being planned....it has happened. 
The last of the Quagga.  Today science is finding ways to help bring this extinct animal back.
Several issues and questions entered my mind regarding this breakthrough.  Is it ethical?  Should it be done? If you're grafting genes onto an existing embryo of an animal that is closely related to the extinct animal, will it really be the same animal?  I'm not a scientist but I do understand the "talk" going on about bringing back animals from extinction.  Imagine.  Man's errors corrected...the Dodo bird, the Tasmanian Wolf, etc.  Do any of us realize how many animals have gone extinct over this past century because of humankind's stupidity?  And what about that discovery of the Woolly Mammoth in the Arctic? Why are people finding more of them?  Is the ice melting? As a kid, I read Ranger Rick and loved everything outdoors.  I always dreamt that the Amazon had a hidden dinosaur in its vast and unexplored jungles or that the Lockness Monster was just too clever to find for men searching the waters for her existence.
The Tasmanian Wolf believed to have gone into extinction over a half century ago
My find on the Woolly Mammoth was published elsewhere and some smart alec commented that the news was "like 10 years ago".  What this person may or may not have understood is that the discovery of more genetic material is important to the cloning world.  If they are to clone an extinct animal, they need excellent genetic material which is found from blood, hair, or tissue samples. Men, during the industrial revolution, did a fantastic job wiping out animals as they "conquered" new lands.  They wiped out herds of buffalo to near extinction, killed wolves because they were eating their cattle(this caused extinction for many subspecies of wolves all around the world!), and took their pistols to the sky and shot down clouds of birds. When it was too late, they kept their last specimens in zoos where they died.  Perhaps the smartest thing they did was preserve the last remaining species for future generations.  By doing so, there would be genetic material to examine when science could figure out how to clone.  Did they foresee this back then?  Who knows?  But here is an article about the Quagga that went extinct in 1883 and today is found in South Africa. Known as the Quagga Project,which started in 1987, this endeavor was an attempt to bring a subspecies of zebra back from extinction.  Today these animals are growing in number.   Are the Quagga back? What do you think?
         The Quagga
Pic taken from http://www.50birds.com/extan/gextanimals1.htm
"DNA analysis has shown that the Quagga was not a separate species of zebra but in fact a subspecies of the Plains Zebra (Equus Quagga) The Quagga, formerly inhabited the Karoo and southern Free State of South Africa. Like other grazing mammals, Quaggas had been ruthlessly hunted. They were seen by the settlers as competitors for the grazing of their livestock, mainly sheep and goats. By selective breeding from a selected founder population of southern Plains Zebras an attempt is being made to retrieve at least the genes responsible for the Quagga’s characteristic striping pattern. The project is aimed at rectifying a tragic mistake made over a hundred years ago through greed and short sightedness. It is hoped that if this revival is successful, in due course herds showing the phenotype of the original quagga will again roam the plains of the Karoo. When the Quagga mare at Amsterdam Zoo died on 12 August 1883, it was not realised that she was the very last of her kind. Because of the confusion caused by the indiscriminate use of the term "Quagga" for any zebra, the true Quagga was hunted to extinction without this being realised until many years later." This topic is quite controversial in the science field. Source: http://www.quaggaproject.org/

While I believe the creation of the Quagga and Woolly Mammoth are two separate issues and use or will use different techniques for the process, this article demonstrates that the science is happening today....and they are very close. The technology to use recovered DNA for breeding does not yet exist, but some scientists are saying that we are not far off and within 4 or 5 years, we may see the birth of a new baby Woolly Mammoth born from an African or Asian Elephant.  And if this isn't interesting enough, the world's first international conference for the restoration of endangered and extinct animals began back in 2010 in Poland. http://biodiversity.pl/ If that isn't a shape of things to come......

What do you think? Should extinction be permanent?
Great website to check out some of the fantastic creatures that roamed our Earth are found here.


  1. Interesting post, Chris. I guess my personal opinion on the matter is absolutely, if we can bring them back, do it! I'd love to see a wooly mammoth or a sabre-tooth tiger. However, with our disappearing habitat for all creatures of the world, would it be fair to those who are still around? Is there enough space to share with more species? Or will they just become extinct again because of lack of food supply and natural habitat? So many philosophical questions and they just keep growing exponentially!

    Hope your swagger is improving as the day goes on!

  2. I'm all for bringing back animals that went extinct because of human stupidity. But I think we should not bring back animals that went extinct due to evolution or natural events. Imagine some giant carnivores like T. Rex dining on our pets and livestocks and even us :)

  3. I shouldn't even get started on this subject because when I think of the massive amount of animals that humans have destroyed I want to hit something. And they are gone most all for the enjoyment of killing. Species like the Dodo bird should never have been lost and the ranchers won't rest until every last wolf has been slaughtered. I agree with above comment...Natural events should be left alone. But humans could have saved many species if only someone involved had cared. Most humans don't care. Just yesterday I got into a conversation about the coyotes with my DIL and she huppttthhhd and told me she'd heard that story from me about 50 times and was tired of it. There's the problem. With the human species, it's "all about me".

    Thank you for this important post.

  4. I think reincarnating the species is worth it provided that 1) the genetic makeup of the reborn beast is reasonably pure 2) The root cause for its demise has been fixed 3) It is still possible to release it to its original habitat to replace the missing cog in the ecological web.


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