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If you think you don't know what de-extinction is, think Jurassic Park. The movie franchise was a series of adventures in de-extinction. When Michael Crichton penned the first novel the idea was still fairly far-fetched to most people. Now science is standing on the doorstep of such possibilities becoming a reality.
Last month, at the TED symposium in Washington, D.C., Stanley A. Temple of the University of Wisconsin Madison spoke to several hundred scientists and conservationists. In his speech he warned of the possibility of unintended negative consequences of reintroducing extinct species into the world eco-system.
According to Temple we could actually end up with a net loss of diversity. During his 32-year career at the university, Temple worked on the conservation of endangered species and the reintroduction of such species into their native areas from which they had vanished.
In 2003, scientists in Spain were able to bring back an extinct species of goat, a Pyrenean Ibex, by harnessing cells from a preserved specimen. The animal died within minutes after birth. Scientists in Australia are using more advanced cloning technology to try to bring back an extinct species of frog by implanting the nuclei into the eggs of an existing species of frog. Other researchers have also been looking into additional methods to bring back extinct species.
While the scientists aren't exactly trying to bring back a T-Rex and Velociraptors, the bell had been rung and there is no way to un-ring it. Conservationists are concerned that de-extinction could destabilize the current ecosystem.
Temple says that he is not against the attempts in de-extinction, nor is he a proponent of it. He is just urging caution as science proceeds. He is also concerned that those engaged in the battle against extinction may abandon their efforts because the animal or plant can just be brought back. The re-introduction of long-extinct species may upset the balance of areas that have adjusted to the loss of the species.
As with so many things -- prevention in the first place is worth more than a cure. And as Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park warned, science can spend so much time finding out that they can do it that they don't stop to think about whether or not they really should.
Sources: JSOnline, Jurassic Park
Laurie Kay Olson
Animal News Blogger