The topic of de-extinction is growing and the thought of extinct animals coming back to life is a controversy that has seized the opinions of scientists in today’s age.
Stanley Temple is the Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation in forest and wildlife ecology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and a senior fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Temple is an expert on birds, wildlife, endangered species, wildlife conservation, biodiversity, conservation biology and ecology.
“De-extinction is producing a new living organism after the last individual of a species has died,” Temple said.
The pairing of advanced technology along with people’s desire to make de-extinction a reality allowed this to happen, he said. There are three different technological approaches used that include in vitro fertilization, cloning and the use of synthetic biology.
Temple said in vitro fertilization is relatively standard and widely accepted because it is used rather frequently to assist couples with infertility problems.
Another method used in de-extinction is cloning, which can be difficult to apply for animal replication.
“The second technique is actually somewhat similar and that is cloning. Again, you could only really do that if it is a recently extinct species for which you preserved tissues that could be used for cloning; in this case the cloning melts in an embryo that would be an exact copy of the extinct parent,” Temple said.
People have gotten accustomed to cloning technology, since it is used frequently in domestic animals, for example it is frequently used in Wisconsin on dairy cows, Temple said. This is a technology that is proven and has a pretty high probability of success, he said.
The third technique of de-extinction revolves around synthetic biology which is a sort of “Jurassic Park” idea and is the most controversial out of all three.
“Basically in synthetic biology and genetic engineering you are producing a new life form that has not previously existed. The two previous techniques I described are producing a replica of the extinct species,” Temple said. “This time you would be working with species that have been extinct for a long time where you have something preserved.”
Temple said he relates this process to ‘putting humpty dumpty back together again’ because the DNA is going to be in lots of little fragments and it is going to be degraded, but they now have the technology to start assembling the genome.
Some people do not feel comfortable with this approach because it is going to produce a genetically-modified organism, Temple said. The replication is going to produce a genetic mix of the two animals, he said.
“It is going to happen and therefore we should be very careful in planning for that event,” Temple said. “It is an epic event, de-extinction has not happened in 3.8 billion years so we better do this carefully, thoughtfully and we better do it for the right reasons not just to make a big splash … but do it with organisms that make sense ethically, environmentally and genetically and do the right thing.”