De-Extinction: Reincarnation of the Past


Are you a fan of old-time history or possibly in love with those ancient creatures that often cross our television screens? Have you ever wanted to walk with a giant dinosaur? That reality may not be that far off as something called de-extinction is emerging in our scientific labs.  Reincarnation may be a reality after all.

In what seems to come straight from many religious believers, when the body dies the spirit does not. In this case, however, the spirit is DNA. As long as there is recoverable DNA, a reasonable physical facsimile can be created. As Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory famously put it, “I have Spock’s DNA! All I need is an ovum and I can grow my own Spock!”

In fact there is more than one method to bring back an extinct species. Cloning is the best known, while reverse engineering is another. But there is more, another process called “breeding back” can also be used. All in all, de-extinction is on the scientists menu, who have apparently moved from genetically engineering plants to a more formidable task. Dr. Frankenstein may no longer be perceived as that crazy scientist meddling with God’s business of creation.

Cloning – The first task is to collect a DNA sampling from existing skeletal remains of the extinct animal. In most cases the genome will not be complete and would have to be reconstructed through genetic engineering. Once manufactured, it would have to be combined with a viable egg from a close living relative. Implanting the embryo into the uterus of the relative could, theoretically, finalize the reincarnation process of the extinct animal.

Reverse engineering – If the lost species has an existing close relative, scientists could compare the genome sequencing of both animals. Once that information has been obtained, the DNA of the living relative could be altered to create a physically and genetically identical replica of the extinct species.

Breeding back – This process, quite simply, uses strategic breeding to eventually bring back the extinct species. While this process would take several generations of offsprings, there is no genetic interference in the reincarnation process.

While de-extinction sounds like the advent of new science fiction. There are, just like Dr. Frankenstein found out, certain unknowns. How would the newly created animal be reinstituted into the wild? What kind of effect would it have on its surrounding ecology?

Not all scientists are convinced that de-extinction is the best endeavor. There are many species that are currently facing extinction and many scientists feel that current priorities should focus on ensuring the survival of those who are endangered. It would be an easier and less costly task to save a species instead of reviving it later.

In any case, however, genetic engineering will not go away as scientists are constantly looking to improve species for a variety of reasons. But reincarnating T-Rex for the specific purpose of being able to do so, might not make sense.

De-extinction is the modern-day reincarnation process. Opponents argue that it doesn’t buy us anything, rather it will further devalue a conservation policy that is already systematically destroying our ecology. Reincarnation will only give us a second chance to  come back and fix it later if we should get it wrong.

Blog by Hans Benes

Image courtesy of Keoni Cabral – License


National Geographic (1)
National Geographic (2)

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