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The Kid Should See This

De-extinction: Should we resurrect lost species?

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“What if I told you that Jurassic Park isn’t a total fantasy?” futurist and edutech founder Sinéad Bovell begins. “That a future where we interact with animals only seen in museums might be possible?”

Dodo birds, woolly mammoths, Tasmanian tigers. That’s the world scientists and researchers are working on as we speak, and not T.rexes or Brontosauruses. I’ll get to why scientifically we won’t be doing that.

“Instead, scientists are focusing on species that could reverse some of the damage that humans have done to the biosphere. And there might be enough DNA found and preserved extinct animals in museums all over the world to jumpstart this resurrection.”

Sinéad Bovell
In this episode of PBS Terra’s Far Out, Bovell explains why scientists are looking at de-extinction—specifically at resurrecting an extinct keystone species called the passenger pigeon—to potentially correct some of the damage humans have done to the balance of Earth’s delicate ecosystems.

“Can science restore what has been lost?” And why choose the passenger pigeon? From the video:

“Researchers think the passenger pigeon was instrumental in creating more biodiversity in North American forests because their massive flocks acted almost like natural forest fires, destructive, but in a good way. They would swarm in like a tornado, stripping trees bare and decimating canopies. But that allowed sunlight to hit the forest floor and created more diverse plant species to flourish. That canopy disturbance is thought to be the start of a chain reaction that helped forests regenerate and spawn new life from insects to reptiles, to deer, to hawks.”

a flock of passenger pigeons
Video guests include “the godfather of genomics,” Dr. George Church, and de-extinction thought leader and author Dr. Beth Shapiro.

How does de-extinction work? Bovell explains. She also discusses the potential benefits, challenges, and ethics of such a monumental decision:

“Even if we can pull this off and resurrect the passenger pigeon, should we? …There are too many examples where humans have introduced invasive species and altered environments beyond repair. Are we just doing this again?

“At the same time… if we get it right, the science and the ethics, we could help balance the biosphere closer to what it was before human interference. And that won’t just benefit us, but all of the other species on this planet who deserve to have their ecosystems back.”

passenger pigeon and a band-tailed pigeon
Watch the video and consider the options: Would you de-extinct a species? Why or why not? And which one would you choose?

Watch these related videos next:
• Birdsong, an animation about Hawaii’s Kaua’i ‘ō’ō
• Woolly mammoth remains discovered in a Michigan field
The Elephant Bird Egg and rare footage of young David Attenborough
• Giant prehistoric penguins + how penguins moved from sky to sea

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