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Thoughts On De-Extinction

May 13, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 19

“Reviving the Dead” brings up some fascinating possibilities (C&EN, April 8, page 34). For the moment, let’s avoid any “Jurassic Park”-type scenarios and confine ourselves to plant and animal species that have gone extinct during the past few centuries.

It would certainly be nice to bring back the great auk and the Caribbean monk seal. Going a little further back, it would be nice to revive the mammoths, which seem to have been hunted to extinction. (The last known mammoth died in South America around A.D. 600.) Revival of the two extinct species of dodo and the Rodrigues solitaire would be desirable, although they would probably have to be kept in zoos; their native habitat is now teeming with too many predators for them to survive in the wild. Other species would be nice to revive, although we might not notice the difference. Audubon’s bighorn sheep were not that different from their Rocky Mountain cousins.

However, there are some species we would not want to see revived, such as the passenger pigeon. If we brought it back, we would probably lose all cereal grain farming east of the Mississippi to vast flocks of feathered locusts. Another example is the Antillean giant rice rat, whose name speaks for itself. Let sleeping pests lie.

James M. Castro
Helena, Mont.


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