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Some people just can't let sleeping frogs lie...
March 16, 2013 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Extinction got you down? Try de-extinction! Our species has played a role in the extinction of ... many other species. But now some scientists are proposing a radical turn of the tables: Bringing lost species back from the dead. How to Resurrect Lost Species.

Today's example: Rheobatrachus silus was a bizarre gastric-brooding frog that swallowed its eggs, brooded its young in its stomach and gave birth through its mouth. The frog species became extinct in 1983. Well, it may not stay that way for long, thanks to the Lazarus Project.

And wait, there's more! A lot more.

Revive & Restore, with the support of TED and in partnership with National Geographic Society, is convening a day-long conference (today) to showcase the prospects of bringing extinct species back to life, along with a discussion of the ethical issues that will raise.

Can it be done responsibly? Should it be done at all? The full-day conference brings together a range of speakers to dive into the emerging idea of de-extinction.
posted by heyho (28 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Will Mankind be able to un-croak all of the dead species over time? If so, is that a good plan like Bullfrogs in Australia was a good idea?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:33 AM on March 16, 2013


Steller's Sea Cow, please. What could possibly go wrong.
posted by Huck500 at 11:39 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, as long we're talking about species that died out in very recent times, such as the frog listed in the original post, their problem lay in the fact that they weren't competitive enough, not that they were capable of overrunning whole continents. I imagine it would be tricky to ensure their survival in the wild, even after they were restored.

Of course, placing them in an environment they were never intended for, as in the case of Australia and rabbits, might create a terrible army of tasmanian devils rampaging across the Texas countryside or what have you, but I trust the painful lessons of the past would be taken into account - this time around its scientists with obvious examples of what could go wrong, rather than ranchers from a century or more ago with good intentions and not a whole lot more.
posted by Palindromedary at 11:42 AM on March 16, 2013


As long as they spare no expense, it should be fine.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 AM on March 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


GIANT GROUND SLOTH! GIANT GROUND SLOTH! Moreover, I want them introduced to American suburbia to munch on the landscaping so that all my days are brightened by giant ground sloths meandering around munching on things and slowing traffic down.

I will also accept those adorable tiny elephants from the Mediterranean islands.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:50 AM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, as long we're talking about species that died out in very recent times, such as the frog listed in the original post, their problem lay in the fact that they weren't competitive enough, not that they were capable of overrunning whole continents.

Not sure that's the reason they're extinct, though. Could have been a fungus.
posted by heyho at 11:55 AM on March 16, 2013


that all my days are brightened by giant ground sloths meandering around munching on things and slowing traffic down.

You just want to see people slip on sloth poop, admit it.

(such humor is so old one might say that they kicked the stone slab out of their baby crib)
posted by rough ashlar at 11:58 AM on March 16, 2013


Species don't generally die out just because humans went around stomping on their heads; they disappear because their habitat is destroyed, or diseases or predators are introduced (there are exceptions). Bringing back a species without bringing back the environment they are adapted to doesn't accomplish anything; it may not even be possible.

And you can't have a viable population of just one, or two; you need hundreds (in some cases) for genetic diversity. The Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is probably going to become extinct even though there are a hundred of them left, because of inevitable inbreeding.
posted by Fnarf at 11:59 AM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've often wondered if it weren't a problem to get suitably undamaged DNA for various extinct species (and as I understand it, this is one of the huge obstacles) how many of these species wouldn't be viable without some learned behavior from the prior generation or the transmission of some commensal organism.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:12 PM on March 16, 2013


They have only one donor frog to clone from. Don't they need at least a male and a female to create a breeding pair? I know some frogs can change gender, but not all frogs.
posted by noahspurrier at 12:40 PM on March 16, 2013


What can possibly go right?
posted by spitbull at 12:48 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


And you can't have a viable population of just one, or two; you need hundreds (in some cases) for genetic diversity.

Genetic diversity isn't a requirement though. It's ideal but not absolutely necessary. Species can can go through bottlenecks and come out the other side - or at least they have in the past.
posted by srboisvert at 12:55 PM on March 16, 2013


Dodos, please. Just dodos.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:34 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


What could possibly go wrong.

You start with elephants and raccoons, and you end up with Theodore Rex.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:46 PM on March 16, 2013


how many of these species wouldn't be viable without some learned behavior from the prior generation or the transmission of some commensal organism.

The cheap way to put Humans in other starsystems is to have the instructions to build Man from the raw chemicals upon arrival.

Taking raw chemicals and build the long-gone are a way to gain experience with the horrible side effects of doing such.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


At least the giant ground sloths have their main food source still around.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:12 PM on March 16, 2013


Why de-extinction is a stupid idea.
posted by sneebler at 3:54 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why de-extinction is a stupid idea.
It might not work very well to try to re-introduce them into the wild, but it might be fun to clone a few so we can put them in zoos and gawk at them.

I'm sure no one could think of any problems that might arise from such a plan...
posted by delmoi at 5:03 PM on March 16, 2013


> but I trust the painful lessons of the past would be taken into account

Trusting soul.
posted by jfuller at 5:04 PM on March 16, 2013


No one's mentioned Jurassic Park yet?
posted by limeonaire at 5:09 PM on March 16, 2013


The Narcissism of De-Extinction
posted by homunculus at 5:42 PM on March 16, 2013


In the narcissism piece, Waters makes this point:

"Ecosystems change constantly. Animals migrate. Weather kills off local populations and allows others to thrive. Disease strikes. And, yes, animals go extinct. Most of the time, ecosystems continue on as they were, with organisms making slight changes to their behavior to compensate for the loss. Sometimes the changes are more drastic and the relationships between organisms are reconstructed. It’s a shocking thing to witness—organisms and ecosystems shifting around us—but this isn’t anything new. It’s been happening since the beginning of life.

So . . . we trying to restore nature to a balance that doesn’t seem to exist" (emphasis mine).

I find this point to be odd. If we take her premise—that there is no natural state of nature to return to and thus all states are, in essence, arbitrary points on a continuum, with no one point being privileged over the other—her point is self defeating. If there is no point of privilege than there is no reason (grounded in thinking about what should be alive, when) to keep from cloning these animals. (Certainly there are other grounds for concern, I'm just talking about this particular point.)

Things happen, there is no single correct balance in nature.

So, there is nothing to stop us from shifting that balance if we choose to.
posted by oddman at 5:56 PM on March 16, 2013


Welcome to Holocene Park.
posted by humanfont at 6:13 PM on March 16, 2013


No one's mentioned Jurassic Park yet?

I tried to.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:47 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find this point to be odd.

I think she's trying to reach her final point: "It’s to the future we must look, not the past. Cut your extinction losses, people: we have to focus our energy on the extinctions that haven’t happened yet."
posted by homunculus at 9:33 PM on March 18, 2013


Carl Zimmer in National Geographic:

Bringing Them Back to Life: The revival of an extinct species is no longer a fantasy. But is it a good idea?

Your De-Extinction Questions Answered
posted by homunculus at 10:06 AM on March 20, 2013


Resurrecting A Forest
posted by homunculus at 10:07 AM on March 20, 2013


humunculus, if so, then her central argument "but this isn’t anything new. It’s been happening since the beginning of life" undercuts the conclusion, too.

If extinction is simply something that happens all of the time and thus not anything to get worked up about, then there is no need to prevent it.
posted by oddman at 12:29 PM on March 23, 2013


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