A large species of animals and birds have gone extinct on this planet over the millennia. There may be several reasons for this massive extinction – like cruel hunting for skin, feathers, meat, etc., or for climatic factors and natural disasters. You might be wondering how these lost species can possibly be brought back to life. Can we really bring back the extinct ones in their entirety?
Well, maybe not as a whole but, some aspects of it can be revived in laboratories. Scientists are working on the remnants of a variety of extinct species and trying their best to recover their genomes. They have successfully extracted the DNA fragments from many fossils and have attempted to genetically clone the species. Now they are also working on hybrids using a method called breeding back. Species similar to the lost ones are possible to recreate in the lab. Thanks to Genetic engineering, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
Here is a list of 7 famous extinct species that may walk on this Earth once again.
1. Tasmanian tiger
The Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine) was known to be one of the largest known marsupials of modern times. The species were hunted to extinction as farmers believed that they killed their sheep. The last thylacine (male), known as Benjamin died in 1936 after being held captive.
Scientists are actively working on bringing back this marsupial to life. They still have a well-preserved specimen of thylacine ‘joey’, or pup through which they hope to resurrect the animal. They are looking forward to combining the DNA of the preserved marsupial with a numbat, which a close living relative of the thylacine. But the cloning idea is still controversial to date.
The Neanderthal, also known as the homo genus, is the closest relative of human beings. In fact, some scientists also argue it to be a sub-species of humans. It one of the most controversial extinct species eligible for cloning and resurrection and scientists are still torn between cloning them or giving up the idea.
The first Neanderthal genome was sequenced in 2010 which gave hope to many scientists that these human species can actually be cloned. It can be done by introducing a Neanderthal DNA into a human stem cell before finding a human surrogate mother to carry the Neanderthal embryo. And there are likely to be mismatches between the mother and embryo, which is the sole reason for controversy.
3. Woolly Mammoth
Woolly mammoth carcasses had been frozen and well-preserved, which easily gave the scientists access to the species’ DNA sequence. CNET reported that researchers announced that they had isolated and resurrected 44 woolly mammoth genes in April 2018.
According to Harvard, researchers are already on their way to bring the mammoth genes back by combining the mammoth’s DNA with that of its closest known relative, the Asian elephant. The hybrid baby formed is sometimes referred to as ‘Mammophant’. Although it’s not a true mammoth, the hybrid creature will surely have some mammoth qualities such as shaggy hair, small ears, and cold-adapted blood. But scientists are still years away from creating a living pseudo-mammoth creature.
4. Passenger pigeon
This species of pigeon was one of the flourishing birds in the 1830s and was endemic to North America. These birds flocked in billions and enveloped the whole sky of North America during the migration season. But by 1914, the species was completely wiped out from the planet due to massive hunting as they were rich in protein sources.
But the forced extinction of passenger pigeons taught humanity a lesson and scientists are hoping to resurrect them. There are several museum specimens, feathers and other remnants of the species still available which proved to be a useful factor for genome sequence study of these species. A close relative of the passenger pigeon is mourning dove, which can serve as a surrogate mother for delivering the lost pigeon.
Dodos are extinct flightless birds that ruled the island of Mauritius at one time. Historically, they were very fat and clumsy and didn’t evolve from any natural predators. But their incapability of flying and fearlessness for humans made it easy prey to the sailors coming towards the island. They couldn’t resist feasting on these plumpy birds and, this eventually led to their extinction.
Scientists have preserved the Dodo skeleton for years, which may help them to study their genomic sequences. But the biggest challenge is that dodos don’t have any close living relatives, which is hindering them from progressing.
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The Quaggas were plains zebra that lived in South Africa that was extinct by the 1880s. Early genetic studies argued that Quaggas aren’t their own species, but a subspecies of plains zebra. They fell prey to ruthless hunting for their skin and meat and were completely wiped out from the planet. The last wild Quagga was shot in 1870 and the last in captivity died in 1883.
Scientists started a de-extinction project, which they named ‘The Quagga project’ in 1987 in an attempt to bring back these little-known species. A hybrid zebra that was strikingly similar to Quagga was created through a type of selective breeding, known as breeding back. But the practice remains still controversial, as the modern quaggas will only externally resemble the extinct quaggas, but may genetically be completely different.
7. Carolina Parakeet
Carolina Parakeet or Carolina conure is an extinct species that was native to the United States. They are small green parrots with a bright yellow head, reddish-orange face, and a pale color beak. The exact cause of extinction of these species has not been pointed out by scientists, but hunting and deforestation are believed to be the possible reasons.
The last known Carolina parakeet died in 1918 and the remnant feathers and eggshells of these birds are still found in museums and laboratories. As these species have several close relatives, they are considered a good candidate for de-extinction.
Although scientists are still thinking of new approaches and making attempts to revive several lost species apart from the ones mentioned above, controversies will always go hand in hand with it. There are many ethical issues that surround the researchers for implementing such a drastic plan. And the question still lingers on whether we should bring back these lost species or not.