Bring Back Extinct Animals! Sort of.

Resurrect extinct mammals? You bet, says Beth Shapiro, an expert in ancient DNA and a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Mostly.

How long before de-extinction is a reality?

The answer depends on what you're willing to accept as "de-extinction." If you mean a pigeon born with some passenger pigeon traits, or an elephant born with mammoth-like traits, it could happen within a few years to a decade. Longer for mammoths, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned and because elephants have a two-year gestation period. If you mean 100-percent mammoth, with all mammoth genes and behaviors, that will never happen...

Because there are so many steps along the way to de-extinction, there is no particular species that is an ideal candidate for being brought back to life. The best choice would be an animal that could not only inspire people to be interested in science and technology but that also would have a net positive impact on the environment. In my mind, the mammoth is a great choice for both of these reasons.

Problematically, mammoth de-extinction would necessarily involve working with and manipulating female elephants. We would need elephant eggs, elephant maternal hosts and elephant surrogate families to raise the unextinct mammoths before releasing them into the wild. Before mammoth de-extinction proceeds beyond the first stages of sequencing and manipulating genomes, we need to know much more about how to perform these later steps in ways that are not harmful to elephants.

Science fiction author David Brin thought about this, and let us look over his shoulder in Earth, his 1990 novel full of interesting ideas and inventions:

Baby's brow fur was long and oily, and gave off a pungent, tangy, yet somehow pleasant odor. The worldwide network of genetic arks had a surfeit of pachyderms, even this new breed - "Mammontelephas" - with half of its genes salvaged from a 20,000-year-old cadaver exposed by the retreating Canadian tundra.
(Read about David Brin's Mammontelephas)

Pretty fun article with lots of good quotes at SmithsonianMag.

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