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De-extinction
February 27, 2014 6:15 PM   Subscribe

The Mammoth Cometh. "Bringing extinct animals back to life is really happening — and it’s going to be very, very cool. Unless it ends up being very, very bad." [Previously, Via]
posted by homunculus (74 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Carl Zimmer: Your De-Extinction Questions Answered
posted by homunculus at 6:17 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


I have wanted a Pickwick of my very own for some time, now....
posted by tzikeh at 6:27 PM on February 27 [8 favorites]




Oh, I remember when I read this before!
posted by mikelieman at 6:32 PM on February 27


You know what I would bring back? Bees. Little bees. The bees that buzzed around my trees for years but now seem strangely gone.

We live at the very cusp of extinction. The happy little honey bees that danced among flowers, so friendly!, have disappeared. The frogs in the canyon don't peep like they used to. It's been ages since I've seen a wild horned toad or rattlesnake.

I'm less concerned about species that became extinct ages ago. I am more worried about the species that have become extinct or imperiled in my tiny lifetime.
posted by SPrintF at 6:35 PM on February 27 [62 favorites]


OUR ARMY WILL RISE
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:36 PM on February 27 [32 favorites]


This could be great news for the basselope.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:38 PM on February 27 [11 favorites]


Megafauna tacos for dinner again?
posted by planetesimal at 6:39 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


Bringing to life a creature from a composited genome sounds more cruel than killing it. Feels like a Frankenstein reboot.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:40 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


Well SprintF that's a lovely sentiment but I can hardly eat a honeybee steak.
posted by angerbot at 6:41 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]


This could be great news for the basselope.

Or the bass harmonica, which also deserves a resurgence.
posted by davejay at 6:44 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


This and saving current species are both great, but the pessimist in me is saying, "What's the point when the planet will soon be 400 degrees (or whatever temp)?"
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:45 PM on February 27


Is it just me, or does this post seem weird coming after this post?
posted by valkane at 6:51 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


I have dibs on the T. Rex!
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:00 PM on February 27


We spared no expense.
posted by inturnaround at 7:00 PM on February 27 [8 favorites]


I'm glad this article focused on the passenger pigeon and not mammoths. If mammoths existed today they'd be experiencing heavy habit loss pressures but the passenger pigeon would fit right in.

SPrintF: "The happy little honey bees that danced among flowers, so friendly!, have disappeared."

The honeybee colony collapse is an interested case. Honeybees are an introduced (to North America) industrial farming monoculture species. And while the collapse of honey bees is bad for the bees and us and possibly a bell weather of environmental degradation their loss as an industrial farm tool might be good for all the native species they are currently competing with.
posted by Mitheral at 7:02 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


I DEMAND A DODO.

Seriously, I really really want my own Dodo.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:07 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]


I'm down for an eastern seaboard full of Carolina Parakeets
posted by thecjm at 7:12 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


"Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn't stop to think if they should."
posted by Twain Device at 7:14 PM on February 27


Bringing to life a creature from a composited genome sounds more cruel than killing it.

Asexual reproduction or GTFO.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:14 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


I DEMAND A DODO

Smoked, grilled, or fried?

The Ugly Chickens
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:20 PM on February 27


I've been drooling over the thought of mammoth steaks for years.

And I'm open to some cruelty-free cloned Neanderthal meat to see if "deliciousness" is a cause of their demise....
posted by codswallop at 7:21 PM on February 27


Auks.
posted by localroger at 7:24 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


that they didn't stop to think if they should

In other words, "if man were meant to fly, he would have wings".

Screw that; bring on the mammoths.
posted by spaltavian at 7:25 PM on February 27 [7 favorites]


The writer Maureen McHugh was talking about this last summer – specifically about resurrecting the mammoth – and pointed out the immense cruelty that would be involved in the project: elephants are pregnant for eighteen months, and the current cloning process (for mammals, at least) entails countless miscarriages. Granted, elephants aren't people, but it does seem gratuitously traumatic. The same would be true of resurrecting Neanderthals.

Not mentioned in the NYTimes article: wasn't the whole point of Jurassic Park that the consequences of reintroducing an extinct species are fundamentally unpredictable? I'm sure the people who brought rabbits to Australia thought it was a really good idea at the time.
posted by with hidden noise at 7:28 PM on February 27


All I want is a giant ground sloth. It's the first thing I resurrect when I play Zoo Tycoon because, um, 20-foot-long sloth!

But people who "know things" about "biology" keep telling me that it'd basically be a big, mean bear-like thing who is probably but not definitively herbivorous who wanted to rummage my garbage and had huge claws to ward me off if I tried to rescue my garbage from it so siiiiiiigh.

That NYT article was weirdly obsessed with the guy who is weirdly obsessed with Passenger Pigeons.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


wasn't the whole point of Jurassic Park that the consequences of reintroducing an extinct species are fundamentally unpredictable?

Yes, let's use a fiction novel by a renown climate change denier in the decision making process about de-extinction.
posted by thecjm at 7:33 PM on February 27 [10 favorites]




Jurassic Park maybe bad, but Pleistocene Park should be OK right?
posted by Carius at 7:39 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Bring back Firefly fireflies!
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:39 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


Megafauna tacos for dinner again?

Cows are megafauna, btw.
posted by aubilenon at 7:39 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


wasn't the whole point of Jurassic Park that the consequences of reintroducing an extinct species are fundamentally unpredictable? I'm sure the people who brought rabbits to Australia thought it was a really good idea at the time.

Yes, that was the point of Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park was also about dinosaurs, rather than species that died out in the last 4,000 years due to human intervention. And while I know Jeff Goldblum delivered that chaos theory speech well, there's no particular reason to think that everything we do leads to some runaway uncontrollable cascade. Restoring known species to known habitats is not the same as bringing rabbits to Australia.

In any case, anything we can do, we will do, eventually.
posted by spaltavian at 7:42 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


The environment for dinosaurs really was a lot different than ours; there were no ice caps, as all the land masses were ringing the equator, the sea level was 600 ft higher, and oxygen levels were a lot higher. It would have struck us as being a place of permanent oppressive tropical summer with no winter anywhere on Earth.

The animals we can realistically hope to de-extinctify, though, pretty much belonged here very recently by comparison. The main problem is, as with still non-extinct species, competition with us for the land and food resources they'd need to thrive.
posted by localroger at 7:45 PM on February 27


In any case, anything we can do, we will do, eventually.

You do realize that includes "die."
posted by localroger at 7:46 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


End of National Geographic article: "And how would the residents of Chicago, New York, or Washington, D.C., feel about a new pigeon species arriving in their cities, darkening their skies, and covering their streets with snowstorms of dung?"

Um ... the same way I feel about starlings?

I've already watched the reintroduction of the Giant Canada Goose, thought extinct for about a decade, found in small numbers in the wild in 1962, protected by law, and now a FUCKING NUISANCE everywhere it goes, and it's just not a big deal despite their insistence on pooping on everything and attacking pedestrians. It's a bird, we already have those, they already fly around in big flocks and poop on cars and exploit urbanization.

It's not going to be birds that freak people out, it's going to be megafauna.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


Restoring known species to known habitats

But it's not a known habitat, and it seems strange to assume that it is. The Midwest, having been thoroughly worked over by big agriculture, is immensely different now than it was a hundred years ago.
posted by with hidden noise at 7:46 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Yes, that was the point of Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park was also about dinosaurs, rather than species that died out in the last 4,000 years due to human intervention.

I thought the mammoth died out at the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 years ago... is this incorrect?

Anyway, I think there is a stronger argument to be made that mammoth died out because of climate change, rather than hunting. The receding glaciers (which allowed human migration throughout Siberia) changed the climate and the environment they had adapted to. Human hunting obviously helped with the extinction, but was ancillary to the main problem the species had with surviving in a changed environment.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:47 PM on February 27


"Bees. Little bees."

When I was a small person in the 70's they were a huge threat. I was as afraid of getting stung as I was of the other kids not liking me.

Falling in dog shit was second only to getting stung. There used to be honeybees who would die to defend their nest, wasps, mud-wasps, blackjacks, fuzzy bumblebees that you could hear flying from ten feet away, yellowjackets, hornets and carpenter bees. They were incredibly numerous.

I was a kid and it was the olden days. I used to trap bees in glass jars and throw rocks at their hives that hung from trees and then run away. One time me and my friends were having a fruit fight - throwing gooshy pears and apples at each other - I was low on ammo so I had to retrieve an opponents thrown apple from the bushes - I didn't realize what was happening untill maybe the third sting. Nine was the total I think.

I want the bees back.
posted by vapidave at 7:48 PM on February 27 [4 favorites]


(Michael Crichton was obviously a dingbat – I only brought him up because Jurassic Park is presented in the article as an argument for de-extinction, when one of the interesting things about the book was that it could usefully be read as an argument against human hubris. This gets lost when you turn it into a movie, and the excitement of seeing rampaging dinosaurs rules out critical thinking about our actual track record with this kind of thing.)
posted by with hidden noise at 7:51 PM on February 27


See, I'm totally for a velociraptor theme park. I know Unix, so I am safe.
posted by jeather at 7:52 PM on February 27 [18 favorites]


Another vote for the Carolina Parakeet. Or the Great Auk. They never did anyone any harm.

Bringing back passenger pigeons, though, is maybe a little insane.
posted by dilettante at 7:53 PM on February 27


I've been drooling over the thought of mammoth steaks for years.

Its already (been) a thing. Maybe.
posted by 445supermag at 7:59 PM on February 27


From the bioethicist quoted at the end of the National Geo article: “What intrigues me is just that it’s really cool,” Greely says. “A saber-toothed cat? It would be neat to see one of those.”

So I feel a little less bad for my immediate natural response to frankensteining nature as "AWESOME!"
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:01 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


The Passenger Pigeon extinction is a bit odd. Bear with me and maybe someone can help me understand.

Why do some species and viral loads need to be so numerous to continue while others don't seem to suffer from the same math?
posted by vapidave at 8:05 PM on February 27


I knew before I started reading the article that it wasn't going to say that we were going to be able to bring back the dinosaurs, but that didn't stop me from hoping. This is still all very cool though.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 8:08 PM on February 27


I thought the mammoth died out at the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 years ago... is this incorrect?

The last remnants died out around 2500bc on Wrangel Island, and maybe as recently as 800ad on smaller and uninhabited islands further south.

The quaternary extinction is unlikely to be purely a hominid overkill event, as some very capable hominids were hunting megafauna in equilibrium for a few hundred thousand years before the neolithic, and Homo Sapiens Sapiens itself is a hundred thousand years old.

I'd posit that the Neolithic tech revolution happened because of the megafauna die out, rather than caused it. It didn't help that hungry humans were tracking down the last of the remnant populations, sure, but the "humans and megafauna co-evolved in Sub-Saharan Africa is why we have elephants, because they evolved to where they were up to our tricks" hypothesis is baloney. There were elephants in North Africa in Roman times, Elephants in India and Southeast Asia to this day, as well as bison, rhinos, tigers, man-eating bears, etc. Buffalo/wisents and elk and caribou and polar bears still all exist, despite us doing our damnedest with gunpowder. They sure as shit didn't evolve down in Africa with us.

And while I'm all worked up... we didn't kill the Neanderthals.

This is going to upset the armchair philosophers and dilettantes who muse on human nature, but we here on Metafilter are data-driven. Show us the evidence!

The earliest battle site known by archaeology dates only to ~14kybp, well after the end of the Neanderthals.

War is technology, not instinct, and in the history of humankind, a relatively recent development.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:12 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]


I say do it. Just do it, dammit. Bring back those animals. And you know why? Because we're all going to die someday. Someday there will be an end to civilization as we know it, someday there will be an end to the human species, and someday there will be an end to life on this planet altogether. And the way things are going, it's looking damn likely that when the end does come, it's going to be because of something we did, one way or another. So keep working hard, all you awesome scientists, and bring back those animals, and to hell with the consequences. Because when our turn comes to an end, I'd much rather it be because of a grand and well-meaning attempt to make things better, instead of an attempt to just shove one more dollar bill into somebody's already overstuffed pockets.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:21 PM on February 27 [4 favorites]


Fuck it. They're a species that probably still existed when the pyramids were built, and may have been partially overhunted or may simply have drowned. They were around in very recent human history, and I, for one, want to ride one around.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:22 PM on February 27 [4 favorites]


Well, I suppose it will be useful when we need to bring the Black Death back.

But heck, I'd love to see living glyptodonts. And while we're at it, let's bring back the Channel Island Mammoths.
posted by happyroach at 8:39 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: I thought the mammoth died out at the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 years ago... is this incorrect?

Yes, they made it to the Bronze Age, perhaps later on isolated islands.

Anyway, I think there is a stronger argument to be made that mammoth died out because of climate change, rather than hunting.

Probably. Personally, I'm not really concerned with the so-called moral dimension of the question, I was just pointing out how little this resembled the Jurassic Park scenario. Humans undoubtedly had an impact, whether we were the prime reason, the coup de grace or just an irritant is unknown.

Slap*Happy: The quaternary extinction is unlikely to be purely a hominid overkill event, as some very capable hominids were hunting megafauna in equilibrium for a few hundred thousand years before the neolithic, and Homo Sapiens Sapiens itself is a hundred thousand years old.

While true, the experience in Africa would have been with animals that had millions of years to adapt to us. (And maybe there were local-level extinction events we don't know about). In Asia, though, the story is different. Homo erectus wasn't in Siberia, and the Homo sapiens invading would have reached behavioral modernity. The mammoths would have been dealing with fully locked and loaded humans, not the JV squad.

The earliest battle site known by archaeology dates only to ~14kybp, well after the end of the Neanderthals.

I don't think we killed the Neanderthals either. Warfare is a pretty risky strategy and only makes sense when resource competition changes the calculation. Given the low population levels and hte open space, it probably didn't happen too much. However, we've observed warfare in chimps, so I'm not buying "war is technology".
posted by spaltavian at 8:40 PM on February 27


I am most excited about the American Chestnut. After decades of cross breeding it looks like they've finally created a blight resistant tree. Testing and validation will take another decade and then replanting will begin.
posted by humanfont at 8:49 PM on February 27 [12 favorites]


The latest thinking why Mammoth went extinct around 10,000 years ago.. turns out the great grassy steppes of the ice age were not that grassy at all, but rather dominated by weeds. Think wild flowers, and clover, alfalfa, garlic mustard and all sorts of various weeds. Weeds are high in protein and easy to digest. However, the last ice age cycle was so severe that it wiped out many of the weedy species and the more hardy grasses took over. Weeds still exist of course but not in the abundance as before. One of the species to survive the grass transition was the reindeer, because it was already used to eating lichen and grass.

If we do bring Mammoth back, it probably won't eat hay in the winter or graze on fields of grass in the spring.
posted by stbalbach at 8:51 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


In Asia, though, the story is different.

In Asia, right now, despite massive human overpopulation and accurate rifles, there are wild elephants, rhinos, buffalo, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs, sloth-bears, brown bears, polar bears, pandas, caribou, reindeer, yaks, wild horses, camels, dromedaries and muskox.

Not as sexy as Mammoths and wooly rhinos and giant sloths, sure... but! If the Asiatic wild horse survived the Coming of Man, the American horse varieties sure could have.

Unless there was another factor in play.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:05 PM on February 27


wasn't the whole point of Jurassic Park that the consequences of reintroducing an extinct species are fundamentally unpredictable?

That's the point that Jurassic Park claimed to have. The point it actually makes is that zoos are poorly suited to extensive centralized automation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:05 PM on February 27 [19 favorites]


In countless A.I. threads Skynet jokes are always made. Will this be the beginning of Bene Tleilaxu jokes?
posted by juiceCake at 9:10 PM on February 27


We need the practice for resurrecting every ocean species that uses calcium carbonate shells in 20 years.
posted by benzenedream at 9:20 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


The same would be true of resurrecting Neanderthals.

Maybe I would only say this because I have a degree in anthropology, but I would be honored to donate my womb to science and give birth to a neanderthal. Even if it meant miscarriages. Hell, miscarriages would be the least weird thing about it.

I mean, if I birth a neanderthal, is that child mine to raise, or am I required to surrender it as if I were just a surrogate? Who would raise such a child? How would that happen, and what would the ramifications be?

The ethical complications there make an elephant carrying a mammoth to term look like a cute party game.
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


The writer Maureen McHugh was talking about this last summer – specifically about resurrecting the mammoth – and pointed out the immense cruelty that would be involved in the project: elephants are pregnant for eighteen months, and the current cloning process (for mammals, at least) entails countless miscarriages. Granted, elephants aren't people, but it does seem gratuitously traumatic.

My conspiracy theory is that these prestige projects help the researchers work out the kinks, helping bring the real product to market faster: namely, facilitating the ultra-wealthy to clone themselves into immortality with as few legal or bioethical hurdles as possible.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:32 PM on February 27


there's no particular reason to think that everything we do leads to some runaway uncontrollable cascade

Nope, no reason at all, aside from the utter shitshow of the climate, the (deregulated) economy, or horrific experiments that defy decency and morality of any form.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:07 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


omg stbalbach that is fantastic news. My lawn isn't shitty and unkempt, it's ideal mammoth grazing habitat!
posted by Lou Stuells at 11:00 PM on February 27 [4 favorites]


I can hardly eat a honeybee steak.

Use a very tiny knife and fork. The real trick is in judging the grill time. It takes mere moments to go from medium-rare to overdone!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:09 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


From the Article: The grazing habits of mammoths, for instance, might encourage the growth of a variety of grasses, which could help to protect the Arctic permafrost from melting

I couldn't help but think that the fact that it is more likely that we humans will clone a wooly mammoth under a pretense of 'stopping climate change' rather than actually stopping climate change is why our planet is ultimately screwed.

That we can potentially recreate approximations of extinct species while our ecosystems fragment and disappear under development and our climate heats up due to carbon we put in the atmosphere is a testament to the paradox that is humanity.

We are a bewildering set.
posted by jnnla at 11:32 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


Oh, the kashrut/halal issues!

All of the ibex and gazelle species are kosher/halal when properly slaughtered.
Passenger pigeons were kosher; dodos (which were giant flightless pigeons!) were potentially kosher; great auks were not. Carolina parrots probably were not kosher. I believe they were all halal but would love to hear about the details.
Mammoths, sloths, dolphins, frogs, all marsupials, and of course dinos, are not kosher.

Cloning and other very assisted reproductive technologies for critters (including human critters) and plants have complex status under both halakhah and sharia. Exciting times!
posted by Dreidl at 11:38 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


War is technology, not instinct

I don't know, chimps and ants seem to make war just fine based on instinct, without needing a lot of tech. And if people have no tech they can still get the job done by beating the hell out of each other with their fists.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:26 AM on February 28


Slap*Happy: "In Asia, right now, despite massive human overpopulation and accurate rifles, there are wild elephants, rhinos, buffalo, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs, sloth-bears, brown bears, polar bears, pandas, caribou, reindeer, yaks, wild horses, camels, dromedaries and muskox."

Some of these animals only exist due to massive efforts at conservation. Do you think there would be elephants if there was free trade in ivory? Pandas are still on the edge. Cheetahs just barely dodged an extinction bullet at some point and might still be doomed (probably not our fault). Animals like buffalo exist in a mere fraction of their pre-contact numbers and range (those sub species that we didn't hunt to extinction). Climate change is probably going to severely impact polar bears. The West African black rhino was hunted to extinction for the "medicinal" properties of it's horn.

All sorts of large cats have gone extinct at least in part because of human pressures.

We managed to hunt Western Grey whales to less than a hundred. Right whales a few hundred. Whales!
posted by Mitheral at 1:43 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Plock, plock.
posted by teleri025 at 5:02 AM on February 28


The same would be true of resurrecting Neanderthals.

No need. There are plenty of Neanderthal descendants still living among us. I myself am 2.9 percent Neanderthal.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:06 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Wtf are jaguars doing in Asia?
posted by Lou Stuells at 5:12 AM on February 28


I wrote a story about how resurrecting the wooly mammoth made me divorce my husband about 8 years ago
posted by rebent at 6:28 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


I just hope we don't resurrect the vampire.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:25 PM on February 28


"Michael Crichton was obviously..." um, his later stuff was a bit pulpy but I thought The Terminal Man was interesting. The end of the movie version of the book was a travesty but I think the book contained some interesting insights regarding addiction.
posted by vapidave at 12:29 AM on March 2








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