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Stewart Brand: The dawn of de-extinction.
Throughout humankind's history, we've driven species after species extinct: the passenger pigeon, the Eastern cougar, the dodo ... But now, says Stewart Brand, we have the technology (and the biology) to bring back species that humanity wiped out. So -- should we? Which ones? He asks a big question whose answer is closer than you may think.
With biotech accelerating four times faster than digital technology, the revival of extinct species is becoming possible. Stewart Brand plans to not only bring species back but restore them to the wild.
The Long Now Foundation
Ever since Jurassic Park, many of us have wondered about the possibility of resurrecting dinosaurs. In the film we see scientists extracting DNA recovered from million-year-old mosquitos trapped in amber. Whether or not this method is feasible remains to be seen, but the idea has nonetheless stirred our imaginations and motivated some of us to try it in the real world. Even if this ancient DNA is no longer viable, we continue to make new findings, such as the soft tissue found in B. rex or the reverse engineering of the "Chickenosaurus."
We may not yet have a fully developed dinosaur, but the technology is proving successful. Scientists were recently able to revive bacteria that had remained dormant in Greenland ice sheets for 120,000 years! Granted, many prehistoric creatures, particularly dinosaurs were much more complex and will require a great deal more to return to life, but the technology may also prove useful for recently extinct animals. There is a significant possibility for the revival of extinct animals, especially those that became extinct due to human influence.
Technological limits aside, there are of course several ethical implications. How do we begin to predict the behavior of a creature that hasn't existed for more than 65 million years?
Doctor Beth Shapiro is an assistant professor of biology at Penn State University. She is well-known for her research in the growing field of ancient DNA. You can download the entire program or view the transcript by clicking here: FORA.tv
Beth Shapiro is an assistant professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University and is a widely acclaimed researcher in the brand-new field of ancient DNA. She was recently a featured scientist in a special Smithsonian magazine section, "37 Under 36: America's Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences" for her work analyzing the DNA of the long-extinct dodo bird. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009.
Ancient DNA research analyzes the genes of extinct plants and animals, letting scientists trace the evolution and extinction of species with a precision unimaginable just five years ago. By comparing dodo DNA with the genes of five other species, for example, Dr. Shapiro's research established that the flightless bird was a distant relative of the pigeon. Her 2004 paper in Science argued that the bison decline began much earlier than suspected - about 37,000 years ago - and was thus not caused primarily by human hunters in North America.
As a Rhodes Scholar in 1999, Dr. Shapiro apprenticed with Oxford University's Alan Cooper, a pioneer in ancient DNA research, and in the six years since, she has risen to the top of the field. She would eventually replace Dr. Cooper as the head of Oxford's Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre where she stayed until her appointment at Penn State this fall.