Will We Bring Back Extinct Animals?

SCIENCE

Will it one day be possible to bring a woolly mammoth . . . or a Neanderthal . . . back to life? Is it a good idea? (Nat Geo News)

Keep track of animals at risk for extinction with our handy chart of the categories and criteria of endangered species.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit!

Would you revive this extinct species? Researchers, engineers, and businesses at Russia’s Pleistocene Park are working to restore the steppe ecosystem of the woolly mammoth, which went extinct about 4,000 years ago. Illustration by Raul Martin, National Geographic

Would you revive this extinct species? Researchers, engineers, and businesses at Russia’s Pleistocene Park are working to restore the steppe ecosystem of the woolly mammoth, which went extinct about 4,000 years ago.
Illustration by Raul Martin, National Geographic

 

Would you revive this extinct species? The Daily Mail thinks someone might: “Wanted: 'Adventurous woman' to give birth to Neanderthal man—Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby”. Oh, Daily Mail. Illustration by Charles R. Knight, National Geographic

Would you revive this extinct species? The Daily Mail thinks someone might: “Wanted: ‘Adventurous woman’ to give birth to Neanderthal man—Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby”. Oh, Daily Mail.
Illustration by Charles R. Knight, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • Read through the Nat Geo News interview or Nat Geo photo gallery on de-extinction. What is de-extinction?
    • De-extinction describes the process of creating an organism that is a member of an extinct species, or is closely related to an extinct species. De-extinction is also called species revivalism or resurrection biology.

 

 

  • Does the de-extinction movement address the reasons species go extinct?
    • No.
    • Maura O’Connor, the science writer interviewed in the Nat Geo News article, says, “[i]n many of the de-extinctions being proposed, they don’t address the problems that caused the extinctions in the first place. We may be able to create woolly mammoths, which would be Asian elephants genetically engineered to survive in the Arctic. But that doesn’t solve the problem of why Asian elephants are endangered.”

 

  • According to O’Connor, even without de-extinction technology, human behavior is already influencing evolution and biodiversity. How?
    • “Most of us are aware that climate change is altering habitats and environments. What we don’t necessarily think about is that by changing habitats and environments, we’re influencing the forces that act upon evolution. Changes are now happening so quickly that they appear to be driving some species towards extinction because they can’t adapt fast enough. Climate change is also driving adaptations that speed up evolution.”
    • Another writer (in the video below) was more blunt: “Playing god with de-extinction? Were we playing god when we drove these species to extinction?”

 

 

  • In the short video above, associated with a 2013 conference on de-extinction, scientists and engineers pose a series of open-ended questions. One of the most basic comes from Australian paleontologist Michael Archer, who is interested in the de-extinction of the Tasmanian tiger. “If you bring an animal like that back,” he says, “what are you going to do with it?” What are some other questions the de-extinction community must ask?
    • How do you teach a “revived” species to act like that species—to enact the behavioral characteristics of that animal? Maura O’Connor says “It’s not just DNA. There’s also animal culture and the relationship between ecology and species. And it’s far from clear that scientists understand how they could bring back those types of relationships.”
    • Would you keep the de-extinct animal in a zoo or research facility?
    • Would you try to re-introduce the de-extinct animal to “the wild”? How would you determine where “the wild” would be?
    • How would you determine how the de-extinct animal would interact and compete with other species for resources?

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Can Genetic Engineering Bring Back Extinct Animals?

Nat Geo: Extinct Species That Could Be Brought Back photo gallery

Nat Geo: Bringing them Back to Life

Nat Geo: What is an endangered species?

Nat Geo: Endangered Species: Categories and Criteria

TedX: DeExtinction videos

The Long Now Foundation: Revive & Restore—Candidate Species

One response to “Will We Bring Back Extinct Animals?

  1. Pingback: Sad Last Stand of the Woolly Mammoth | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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