Day 94: The dawn of de- extinction

Extinction is bigger than death. Technology expert and founder of organisations such as, ‘The Global Business network’ and ‘The WELL’, Stewart Brand is turning his sights on de- extinction with the growth of biotechnology.
In 1914, the last passenger pigeon in North America died. These birds had been hunted for their meat by the ton, easily caught in nets as they flew down in their hundreds. Their death made people realise the same thing was about to happen to the bison, and so it was saved. Other creatures weren’t so lucky; the Tasmanian tiger, the Carolina parakeet, the European Auroch.
When Brand discovered it might be possible to use DNA from animals in museums, which might be up to 200,000 years old, to reverse extinction, he started by questioning his wife who ran a biotech business. Together with one of her colleagues, they organised a summit on the passenger pigeon. It turned out that a molecular biologist called Beth Shapiro had already sequenced molecular pigeon DNA. Replacing a close relative of the passenger pigeon, the band tailed pigeon, with some genes of the passenger pigeon, creates an imperfect version of the extinct bird. But then nature isn’t perfect.
With his wife, Brand created a non- profit called, ‘Restore and Revive’ to push responsible and ethical programs for de-extinction. A number of positive developments have taken place throughout the world, such as the birth of a baby bucardo from a cloned egg planted in a goat and the Javan Banteng successfully carried by a cow.
There are some fears that channeling efforts into de- extinction will detract from the vital work of conserving animals already endangered. The Red List tracks such cases. Yet in response to the need for the public to hear some good news, the Green List was formulated. This contains species that were threatened, such as the bald eagle, which are now doing fine.
Brand reckons its time to go public with the good news. They are pushing ahead with re- developing the passenger pigeon. Humans have made a huge hole in nature over the past 10,000 years; now that we have the technology, it’s time to do something to repair the damage.


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