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article image'De-extinction' or saving the species nearing extinction?

By Karen Graham     Jan 30, 2017 in Science
If you were given the unique pleasure of deciding which species of now extinct animal or plant you would like to resurrect, what would you choose, a Tasmanian tiger, or perhaps the woolly mammoth?
It's not science-fiction or a pipe dream, but because our technology hasn't advanced far enough to make de-extinction a reality, we are still at the "What if?" stage, writes the BBC.
And while there are no proven methods for de-extinction, new advances in genetic engineering like the CRISPR-Cas9 revolution have given scientists hope that we might start seriously thinking about bringing back ecologically beneficial animal and plant species.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has the world's final say on the conservation and classification of endangered and near-extinct species. Earlier this month, the IUCN reported that over half the world's primate could disappear within the next 50 years, so they are hopeful that progress on de-extinction technology will become viable in the near future.
The Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is a subspecies of the western gorilla. This primat...
The Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is a subspecies of the western gorilla. This primate is critically endangered, with only about 250 left in the wild.
arenddehaas
The resurrection of species
The IUCN does not endorse de-extinction, but they are confident that de-extinction could become a possibility. To address the de-extinction issue, the agency got together a group of renowned conservationist to draw up guidelines or protocols for managing species that are currently extinct. The document is called the IUCN SSC Guiding Principles on Creating Proxies of Extinct Species for Conservation Benefit.
Axel Moehrenschlager, the director of conservation and science at Calgary Zoo in Canada, and Phil Seddon from the University of Otago in New Zealand helped in drafting the IUCN guidelines. These two gentlemen are experts at re-introduction, bringing back a species to the landscape they were familiar with, and so the concepts of de-extinction and re-introduction are somewhat similar.
And because the two concepts are in some ways, one in the same, de-extinction should not mean bringing animals back to fill our zoos. Instead, they should be brought back to create a genetically diverse and viable population that would complement and maintain the health of the environment they once lived in.
First-generation Maremmana x Pajuna cross bull from Tauros Programme in the Netherlands in 2013.
First-generation Maremmana x Pajuna cross bull from Tauros Programme in the Netherlands in 2013.
Henri Kerkdijk-Otten - Owner
Earlier this month, Digital Journal reported on the Tauros program, a private Dutch endeavor working to resurrect an ancient breed of land herbivore, the auroch, an ancestor of the cattle we know today. Aurochs once roamed the plains of the European continent for 250,000 years until the very last one died in 1627.
With the auroch, scientists are using selective breeding to reverse the evolutionary process. In other words, sort of "back-breeding" until the desired animal is produced, a process that will take a number of years. The quagga, a subspecies of zebra which has been extinct since the 1880s, has been revived using selective breeding of zebras. Because the animal is not genetically the same as the quagga, it is called a Rau quagga.
Rau quaggas in the animal camp on the slopes of Devil’s Peak  above Groote Schuur Hospital  Cape T...
Rau quaggas in the animal camp on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, above Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town.
Oggmus
A species and its role in the ecosystem
Obviously, a T. Rex would have no place in the world today, right? But what about a Rabb's fringe-limbed treefrog? Before a species could be brought back to life, there are a number of considerations that need to be taken into account. After all, an extinct species brought back to our modern environment would actually be an invasive species.
"We know from re-introducing existing species in areas where they've been missing for a while that you can have all sorts of unintended consequences," says Seddon. And he is right because each species has a role in an ecosystem. As an example, grazing animals like the auroch keep vegetation under control and predators keep animal populations under control. It's a natural balance that we, as humans have altered.
Lions are among 11 of the world's top predators that face extinction due to a sharp decline in ...
Lions are among 11 of the world's top predators that face extinction due to a sharp decline in their prey
Jean-Christophe Verhaegen, AFP/File
"We're still grappling with the idea of functionality in ecosystems but we do understand that some species are less redundant than others," says Seddon. "De-extinction could be the art of trying to bring something back that would fill in the gap or serve the same purpose in that ecosystem."
In a future article, we will look deeper into the impacts and potential risks of the resurrection of a species and whether we can predict, mitigate or control the problems that may arise in a re-introduction of a species. In the meantime, think about which species should be resurrected and why.
More about deextinction, benefits to the environment, zoo animals, Conservation, guidelines needed
 
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