A new word has appeared in the English language which can’t be found in any of my dictionaries: de-extinction. It means to bring an extinct species back to life. The notion took fire in people’s imagination after Michael Crichton wrote his novel, Jurassic Park. In it, scientist use DNA to recreate the Mesozoic Age complete with dinosaurs.
De-extinction was first attempted in 1989 with the bucardo goat. Scientists brought a fetus of the extinct animal to term, but it died minutes after birth. (“Bringing extinct species back to life,” by Carl Zimmer of the National Geographic, reprinted in The Week, 8/2/13, pg. 40) Since that time, advances in genetic research have increased the probability that de-extinction will one day be achieved. Some dream of reviving the Woolly Mammoth, a behemoth that roamed the earth around 10,000 B.C.
Usually a species that old wouldn’t have enough viable DNA to make reconstruction possible. But, last summer researchers “found frozen chunks of mammoth tissue, including bone marrow, hair, skin and fat,” which may provide enough cells to coax an embryo into existence. (Ibid, pg 41.)
The possibility of de-extinction raises a number of moral and environmental questions, not the least of which is the potential that a virus will re-emerge with the embryo which could wreak havoc upon a world with no natural defenses. Of course, one might even ask if the world really needs woolly mammoths or dodo birds, the great auk or the passenger pigeon.
For me, however, the biggest question is neither scientific nor ethical. If Michael Crichton can be credited with our dreams of de-extinction then what other imaginative worlds might flow from the minds of writers that can also alter our existence? The question is worth pondering As Plato implied, we artists might be dangerous people.
(Courtesy of lauriecaple.com)