Jurassic Park is a sci-fi movie franchise that has stolen the hearts of many individuals since the end of the last century. The audience can only imagine the possibility of being able to bring back extinct species from several millennia ago, back when humans hadn't even seen the dawn of time. Though this was once considered to only be possible in theaters, proper funding, research, and scientific advancements may now make it a very probable reality soon.
In a nutshell, the process of reviving an extinct species consists of several crucial steps; the first being obtaining a complete DNA genome from the selected species; then inserting the genome into chromosomes of closely related species; then embedding those chromosomes into a cell; then once those cells divide into an embryo, the embryo must be inserted into a surrogate. This method is a very delicate procedure and can only be initiated with a properly preserved, complete DNA genome sequence, something that is very difficult to obtain, usually through a mummified sample or a preserved fossil. As a result, reviving prehistoric reptiles may still be science fiction at the moment, since there aren’t any recorded cases of complete dinosaur DNA; however, species such as the Dodo bird, the passenger pigeon, Thylacine, or even the woolly mammoth, are all the most likely subjects to bring back.
In fact, a briefly successful attempt at reviving an extinct species has already occurred in the early 21st century. The Pyrenean ibex was a species of wild goat native to Western Europe, specifically found in Northern Spain and Southern France, that was declared extinct in the year 2000. However, before the last female individual of the species died, researchers had “transferred 782 of [it’s] somatic cells into eggs and produced 407 embryos. Two hundred and eight of these embryos made it into hosts.” Only one pregnancy had endured, and when the kid was born, it had only survived for several minutes “due to physical defects in lungs.” Though the accomplishment was short-lived, the entire concept of being able to de-extinct past species can be considered possible, if in dire need of adjustment.
Another way of potentially reviving extinct species would be through a recently devised method of back-breeding, literally ‘breeding backward’. Back-breeding essentially constitutes using individuals in a species with specific traits to produce offspring that look extremely similar to its extinct predecessor. Bioengineers have already used back-breeding to reintroduce aurochs—a past species believed to have been the ancestor of modern cattle, before they became domesticated. The offspring technically does not contain the DNA of a true auroch, however, it certainly may possess an extremely similar appearance and behavior of an auroch. This introduces the controversy of utilizing back-breeding as a method of de-extinction: What can be considered a true de-extinction? Can an exact copy of a species, despite not possessing any genetic material with the extinct species, still be considered valid? In the words of Beth Shapiro, an American molecular biologist, “If any mammoth we bring back from the dead requires the help of an elephant, will it truly be a mammoth?”
Not to mention, the entire concept of de-extinction is a matter of debate among researchers. Science is on the border of truly being able to revive deceased populations, but should we? Will these species become confined to the marveled at behind glass? Or will they be released into their natural habitat? That is, if it still exists. In the scenario that they are released into the wild, ecosystems will undeniably shift to accommodate their introduction. Whether these ecosystems will be able to maintain stability is the concern. Many believe that the risk of causing eco-havoc is too prominent, as re-introducing these species may throw the entire system off-balance, now that they have adapted without them. Those opposed generally believe that it may genuinely assist conservation efforts, since the reintroduced species will be back into their natural environment and thus put the ecosystem into order once again. Even then, a large majority believe that the entire issue of de-extinction is a complete waste of time and resources, as they argue it’s better to spend the effort on the living, to prevent them from near extinction in the first place.
Overall, de-extinction is becoming a very real possibility, with several organized attempts already occurring; through true de-extinction methods or through selective breeding, we may see the dawn of a new milestone. Whether or not we should, however, is still up for debate.