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The Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo, is the first species to have survived de-extinction past birth.

De-extinction, resurrection biology, or species revivalism is the controversial process of creating an organism, which is a member of or resembles an extinct species, or a breeding population of such organisms. Cloning is the most widely proposed method, although selective breeding has also been proposed. Similar techniques have been applied to endangered species.

There is significant controversy over de-extinction, and critics assert that efforts would be better spent conserving existing species, and that the habitat necessary for formerly extinct species to survive is too limited to warrant de-extinction.

De-extinction has been the subject of films and novels, such as Jurassic Park and Carnosaur.



Cloning is one method discussed as an option for bringing extinct species back. Proponents include author Stewart Brand, and proposed species include the Passenger Pigeon and the woolly mammoth.

Ongoing technological advances have encouraged the hypothesis that by using DNA from the remains of an extinct species, through the process of cloning, the species may be "brought back to life". Proposed targets for cloning include the mammoth, thylacine, and Pyrenean Ibex. For such a program to succeed, a sufficient number of individuals would have to be cloned, from the DNA of different individuals (in the case of sexually reproducing organisms) to create a viable population. Though bioethical and philosophical objections have been raised,[1][not in citation given] proponents argue that the cloning of extinct creatures is a viable outcome of the continuing advances in science and technology.[2]

In 2003, scientists attempted to clone the extinct Pyrenean Ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica). This attempt failed: of the 285 embryos reconstructed, 54 were transferred to 12 mountain goats and mountain goat-domestic goat hybrids, but only two survived the initial two months of gestation before they too died.[3] In 2009, a second attempt was made to clone the Pyrenean Ibex: one clone was born alive, but died seven minutes later, due to physical defects in the lungs.[4][5]

A team of Russian and South Korean scientists are, as of April 2013, attempting to clone a Woolly mammoth using an Elephant as a surrogate mother. Large amounts of well-preserved mammoth tissue have been found in Siberia, but, as of April 2013, the cloning process is still in the planning stages. Once the process is completed, there are plans to introduce the mammoths to Pleistocene Park, a wildlife reserve in Siberia.[6]

Although de-extinction efforts have not yet succeeded in producing viable offspring of a previously extinct species, the same process has been applied successfully to endangered species. The banteng is the second endangered species to be successfully cloned, and the first to survive for more than a week (the first was a gaur that died two days after being born).[7][8] Scientists at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, United States extracted DNA from banteng cells kept in the San Diego Zoo's "Frozen Zoo" facility, and transferred it into eggs from domestic cattle, a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Thirty hybrid embryos were created and sent to Trans Ova Genetics, which implanted the fertilized eggs in domestic cattle. Two were carried to term and delivered by Caesarian section.[9] The first hybrid was born on April 1, 2003, and the second two days later. The second was euthanized,[10] but the first survived and, as of September 2006, remained in good health at the San Diego Zoo.

The concept of cloning extinct species is thought to have been first popularized by the successful 1990 Michael Chrichton novel and subsequent film Jurassic Park, though it may have been first used in John Brosnan's 1984 novel Carnosaur, then in F. Paul Wilson's 1989 novel Dydeetown World, and later in Piers Anthony's 1990 novel Balook, which featured the resurrection of a Baluchitherium.

Selective breeding[edit]

The aurochs, which became extinct in 1627, could possibly be brought back by taking DNA samples from bone and teeth fragments in museums in order to obtain genetic material to recreate its DNA. Researchers would then compare the DNA to that of modern European cattle to determine which breeds still carry the creature's genes, and then undertake a selective breeding program to reverse the evolutionary process. The intention would be that with every passing generation, the cattle would more closely resemble the ancient aurochs.[11]


Opponents of de-extinction have claimed that efforts, and resources, to resurrect extinct species could have been better used trying to conserve endangered species that might themselves go extinct.[12]

It has also been noted that a resurrected species, while being genetically the same as previously living specimens, will not have the same behaviour as its predecessors, since the first animal to be brought back will be raised by parents of a different species (the fetus's host), not the one that died out. It will therefore not be able to learn the "culture" of its species.

Alternative uses[edit]

Scientific American, in an editorial condemning de-extinction, pointed out that the technologies involved could have secondary applications, specifically to help species on the verge of extinction regain their genetic diversity, for example the black-footed ferret or the northern white rhino. It noted, however, that such research "should be conducted under the mantle of preserving modern biodiversity rather than conjuring extinct species from the grave."[12]


  1. ^ A. Zitner (2000-12-24). "Cloned Goat Would Revive Extinct Line". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-17. 
  2. ^ Nicholas wade (2008-11-19). "Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-17.  The cell could be converted into an embryo and brought to term by an elephant, a project he estimated would cost some $10 million. "This is something that could work, though it will be tedious and expensive,"
  3. ^ Steve Connor (2009-02-02). "Cloned goat dies after attempt to bring species back from extinction". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-05-17. 
  4. ^ "Extinct ibex is resurrected by cloning". Telegraph. 31 Jan 2009. 
  5. ^ De-extinction article by NGC
  6. ^ Zimmer, Carl (2013). "Bringing Extinct Species Back to Life". National Geographic 233: 33–36. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Fairfax Digital, Banteng clone leads charge for endangered animals, April 9, 2003. Visited October 12, 2009.
  8. ^ World Environment News, Scientists clone endangered Asian banteng, April 9, 2003. Visited October 12, 2009.
  9. ^ Advanced Cell Technology, Collaborative Effort Yields Endangered Species Clone, April 8, 2003. Visited October 12, 2009.
  10. ^ Nature Biotechnology (subscription required)
  11. ^ Breeding Ancient Cattle Back from Extinction
  12. ^ a b "De-extinction critics at Scientific American have missed the point". Guardian. Retrieved 2013-06-07. 

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