In 1968, Stewart Brand published the first edition of the Whole Earth Catalogue. The catalogue that would win the National Book Award began as a six-page mimeographer that opened with Brand’s now legendary statement of purpose: “we are like gods and we could also be good at it.”
It’s a statement of optimism for the future and one that Brand continues to take seriously—and never more seriously than with its Revive and Restore project.
For those who are not yet familiar, reviving and restoring is an attempt to link DNA samples from now extinct animals with modern biotechnology-DNA sequencing, DNA synthesis, stem cell technologies, reproductive technologies and the like – and, well, reviving the dead. The technical term for this is “de-extinguishing”, although I would like to offer “rewind” as another option.
The dead, at least in terms of reviving and restoring, is the American migratory dove, once the most abundant bird in North America, extinct since 1914.
Sequence the band-tailed and passenger pigeon genomes and find the significant differences between them. Edit the DNA of a banded-tailed pigeon germ cell, the type that turns into sperm or eggs, to match that of the passing pigeon. It implants this cell into the egg of another pigeon, maybe a rock pigeon, which is easy to work with in the lab. I expect the germ cell to migrate to the gonads of the developing chick. Allow the chick to grow and breed two of these birds to create a passing pigeon.
This, by the way, will not be easy to do. The genetic line of banded-tailed pigeons and passing pigeons diverged about 30 million years ago, so the differences between them will be great. Researchers will have to map traits to genes and even genomes that we know well, going back is a complicated matter. Scientists also need to figure out how to turn bird stem cells into germ cells – something within their reach, but not yet achieved.
Despite the size of these obstacles, it is important to remember that biotechnology is improving rapidly, in the case of DNA sequencing, up to 5 times faster than the speed of Moore’s law. In a similar vein, it is also important to remember Yogi Berra’s words: “the future is not what it used to be.”
Berra’s words are apt here because, well, reviving and restoring isn’t the only zombie game in town. Take the Lazarus Project, at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Last March, scientists there announced that they had produced cloned embryos of an extinct Australian frog, Rheobatrachus silus, also known as the “gastric incubation frog”.”To achieve this, they used” somatic cell transfer” to implant a “dead” cell nucleus (collected in the 1970s, before the Frog became extinct, then stored in a refrigerator) into a fresh egg of another related frog species. Some of the eggs began to split, allowing researchers to verify that the genetics matched. But the biological program is complex. No frog embryo has managed to live beyond the embryonic stage. Similarly, in the year 2000, for example, scientists managed to de-extinguish a Pyrenean goat—which lived about 10 minutes after being born by a goat—being the victim of a developmental defect and, in the process, becoming the first species to become extinct twice. However, the results are promising and with more R & amp; D they can almost certainly be solved.
From a conservation point of view, this gives rise to difficult news. On a very large side of this coin, this technology means that we have the opportunity to apologize to nature, to have the opportunity to repair some of the unfathomable damage that humans have done to other species in our quest for domination.
And I mean unfathomable.
Today, right now, we are losing more than 100,000 (maybe up to 140,000) species a year to extinction. The technical term for this is “the sixth great extinction” with the fifth, for those who keep track at home, being the one that killed the dinosaurs. For other life forms, humanity is more harmful than the impact of an asteroid.
At the same time, there are now about 30 years of serious eco-psychological thinking that shows that the best things human beings can do for the planet is to expand their sphere of care, to begin to feel about their environment the way they currently feel about their family.
This is what Aldo Leopold called the “ethics of the Earth”, writing in 1948, in his famous Sand County Almanac: “all ethics so far evolved rests on a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts drive him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics also drive him to cooperate (perhaps so that there may be a place to compete for). The Earth ethic simply extends the boundaries of the community to include soil, water, plants and animals, or collectively: the Earth.”
To put it another way, many feel it was our attitude of “dominance over nature” that got us into our current environmental mess in the first place. Being able to bring species back from death-to be like gods, as Brand would say-could make us even more arrogant and arrogant towards the natural world than we already are fu fueling the exactly opposite attitude of Earth Ethics.
However, extinction technologies could change the way we conserve. We already have seeds and DNA from other organisms. The development of rewinding Technologies provides an even greater guarantee that we will not lose our biodiversity forever. Its development will also help establish best practices for storing samples, etc., and could unlock new sources of funding for the comprehensive development of biotechnologies for non-medical practice, with very tangible ecological results.