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A ‘De-Extinction Company’ Is Working to Bring Back the Dodo Bird

A ‘De-Extinction Company’ Is Working to Bring Back the Dodo Bird

The phrase “dead as a dodo” may be on its way to extinction.

This week, Colossal Biosciences announced it has received $150 million in funding to add the extinct dodo bird to its list of de-extinction targets.

Colossal Biosciences’ stated goal is not just to bring back these species for fun, but to restore a certain amount of normalcy to their respective habitats. The company believes that reintroducing these creatures will help the environment.

The company is already working on bringing back the woolly mammoth and the Tasmanian tiger, but is the pursuit of de-extinction worth the effort?

The de-extinction process does not actually bring back the extinct species, but instead, creates a proxy species that represents the extinct form in some way. This means that any “resurrected” dodo will not be an exact copy of the bird that roamed the earth, but instead, a genetically engineered version with some modern bird DNA imbued in it.

Furthermore, Colossal Biosciences explains that behavioral traits of an animal are impossible to extrapolate from a genome alone. The thylacine, a.k.a. the Tasmanian tiger, for example, is an iconic species that was hunted to extinction by humans in the 1930s. While there is some film footage of the animal, many aspects of its behavior are simply lost to time. The same could be said of the dodo bird, which was flightless and weighed up to 50 pounds. How could anyone know that the proxy species produced by Colossal will act in the same way as the original?

An ethical dilemma of de-extinction is the fact that it relies on the genetics of a living creature to bring back an extinct species. For the company’s proxy mammoth, for example, it will use an artificial womb rather than an Asian elephant, which is endangered, but a resurrected thylacine would be produced from the genome and egg of a related species.

De-extinction is not a new concept, and there has been a lot of research into the ethics of the process. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission published a report detailing the ground rules for creating proxy species. The report stated, “Proxy is preferred to facsimile, which implies creation of an exact copy.”

De-extinction is not simply a matter of science, but a complex interplay between science, ethics and morality.

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