It’s generally accepted that when a species goes extinct, that means every last specimen is dead, and therefore that animal will never exist on Earth again. But science is advancing all the time and achieving surprising goals. Recently, the scientific community has been buzzing about the prospect of de-extinction, bringing extinct species back to life. Advancing tech in cloning could possibly be used to combine DNA samples from extinct species with those of related, living species in order to revive the once-dead animals. De-extinction could be many years away, or just a few — scientists are already hard at work trying to make it a reality. Here are some of the extinct species we may someday see again.
Scientists are already getting close to de-extincting an unusual species of frog that gives birth via its mouth. Called “gastric-breeding frogs,” the species R. silus swallowed their fertilized eggs, at which point their stomachs stopped producing acid and functioned as makeshift wombs. When it came time to give birth, the froglets emerged from their parents’ mouths. The Lazarus Project has spent several years trying to revive the species using cloning technology. They haven’t yet been able to keep any eggs alive beyond the embryo stage, but if they do, R. silus will be one of the first successfully de-extincted animals. (National Geographic)
Wooly mammoths went extinct late in the Pleistocene era, tens of thousands of years ago. But they remain popular as an extinct, prehistoric species because of their fascinating and unique appearance. Now there’s a relatively good chance that if and when de-extinction becomes successful, woolly mammoths may be one of the extinct animals humans will lay eyes on once again. Mammoth remains well-preserved by the cold are still being discovered, and scientists possess frozen soft tissue that contains DNA that could be used to revive the elephant-like species. In fact, plans to do so are underway. Last year, scientists in Russia and South Korea announced a partnership to try cloning and reviving woolly mammoths. (GMA News)
Passenger pigeons once inhabited the United States in huge flocks. There are estimated to have been billions of them; they were among the most abundant bird species in the world. But due to several contributing factors — hunting, disease and habitat loss among them — the population of passenger pigeons declined steadily during the 19th century. The last of them, a pigeon named Martha, died in 1914. But passenger pigeons are near the top of the list of de-extinction projects. They are a practical choice because their DNA has already been sequenced. Passenger pigeon DNA will be compared to that of its closest living relative, the banded-tail pigeon. Once crucial differences between the two are identified and analyzed, scientists hope to convert banded-tail pigeon DNA into passenger pigeon DNA, possibly allowing for the generation of live passenger pigeons. (The Long Now Foundation)
Pyrenean ibexes are a likely candidate for de-extinction because they’ve already been brought back once, briefly. Once numerous, their numbers dwindled to fewer than 100 by the 20th century. The last one died in 2000. Then science stepped in, thumbing its nose at fate. Nine months after the last Pyrenean ibex died, a project was announced that would clone the species. The project met with limited success when a cloned Pyrenean ibex was born to a mountain-goat surrogate mother in 2009. The animal died within minutes, but not before proving that de-extinction is possible. (Nature.com)
The dodo has been gone since the 17th century. Living exclusively on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, dodos were overly trusting of the humans who discovered their islands. We managed to wipe out the flightless birds by overhunting them because they were such easy prey. Meanwhile, the dogs we introduced to their habitat ate them and their eggs. Today, the unique-looking birds are so synonymous with extinction that “gone the way of the dodo” has become a common expression to describe anything that’s extinct or obsolete. But science hopes to force us to come up with a new idiom. Two dodo skeletons have been found containing DNA samples. (National Geographic)
Thylacines, aka tasmanian tigers, were dog-like marsupials native to Australia. The carnivorous predators went extinct from the Australian mainland thousands of years ago, but managed to survive on the island of Tasmania into the 20th century. The species eventually died out in the 1930s due to the three common threats of hunting, disease and habitat loss. The species is a candidate for de-extinction because they existed until relatively recently, and scientists have tissue samples with DNA. Cloning could be tricky, though, because they don’t have any very close relatives left on Earth to match their DNA to. (National Geographic)
Early humans hunted giant sloths, of which there were several species, into extinction about 11,000 years ago, although some maintain that climate change and other factors may have contributed. Although these large mammals have been gone from the surface of the planet for a long time, scientists have their coprolites, which is the technical term for fossilized feces. The fossil dung contains DNA samples that may allow the revival of this long-extinct species. (National Geographic)
NEW ZEALAND GIANT MOA
Unlike dodo birds, the New Zealand giant moa weren’t hunted into extinction by encroaching humans who came from other corners of the world, but rather the Maori people who were indigenous to New Zealand. Of course, that’s of little comfort to the moa; they’re extinct either way. What may be of actual comfort to the spirits of these large, flightless birds is that they have become candidates for de-extinction. Scientists have found moa DNA in fossil eggs, feathers, bones and soft tissue from New Zealand, 600 years after the birds were last seen. (Delaware County Daily Times)
The woolly rhinoceros, which went extinct around the time of the ice age about 10,000 years ago, could possibly see de-extinction for similar reasons to woolly mammoths. Intact remains have been found in locations that have preserved them remarkably well, such as frosty Siberia, and tar pits in Poland. The rhinoceros is a bit of a long shot compared to mammoths, though, because there are fewer samples. “For every hundred mammoths, you might find one woolly rhino,” said Hendrik Poinar, a molecular evolutionary geneticist and biological anthropologist at the Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. On top of that, the rhinos that represent the closest living relatives on Earth today are critically endangered, and struggling not to go extinct themselves. (Destroy Info)
Next: 12 Endangered Species Saved From Extinction in 2012
Remember Baby Puss, the Flintstones’ pet saber-toothed cat? Well, what once seemed like a ridiculous fantasy that could exist only in a cartoon may someday become science fact. Not that you’d have a pet saber-tooth in your home, but it could be that humans and saber-tooths will exist together on the planet once again. We hunted them into extinction 10,000 years ago, but now we may be able to resurrect these California cats (their bones are the Golden State’s official fossil). Scientists have access to saber-tooth DNA in bones preserved by Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits. And you thought that all LA produced was Hollywood movies! (National Geographic)
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