9 Extinct Animals That Could Be Resurrected One Day
Science is getting closer to bringing back species we thought were gone forever.
How can an extinct species come back?
Jurassic Park doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. Scientists can extract DNA fragments from fossils and preserved body parts from extinct species, then use those to help figure out the rest of the gene sequence (its genome), or at least most of it. Eventually, they might be able to clone long-dead animals, but for now they’re working on hybrids. By combining the DNA of an extinct species with a close living relative, they can create a new animal that looks like the ones we thought we’d never see again. De-extinction started showing promise as early as 2003, when a mountain goat that had gone extinct three years before was reborn in a lab, though it died minutes later. There are ethical questions about whether humans should bring extinct animals back to life. How will they respond to and change their new environment? Should humans take such an active role in the course of nature? Like it or not, these extinct species could be coming soon to a lab near you.
Scientists are already well on their way to making a mammoth-elephant hybrid. They’re combining Asian-elephant DNA with mammoth DNA, in hopes of growing a hybrid baby in an artificial elephant womb. Although it wouldn’t be a true mammoth per se, it would have the fat levels, shaggy fur, and small ears to help it act like its extinct cousin. Check out these 12 prehistoric animals you’ll be glad are extinct.
The Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine) was largely wiped out after farmers blamed it for killing sheep, and the last known one died in captivity in 1936. Some Australians still believe there are a few alive in the wild, and they might not need to keep the faith much longer: Scientists are actively working on resurrecting the marsupial. They hope to combine DNA from a preserved thylacine “joey,” or pup, with a numbat, although the experiment will be difficult because they aren’t as closely related as, say, an elephant and a mammoth.
In the 1830s, the passenger pigeon was the most flourishing bird in North America. But over the next several decades, their forests were cut down and they were hunted as an easy source of protein. The last one died in 1914—less than 100 years after its population was estimated at three billion. The extinction taught humanity a lesson and launched the movement to protect endangered species. Scientists are now hoping to revive the population, partially as a symbol of conservation.
This little-known zebra relative was extinct by the 1880s, but scientists in South Africa are on their way to bringing it back. Some researchers argue that the quagga isn’t its own species but a subspecies of the plains zebra, so they can use selective breeding to essentially speed up evolution and re-create the quagga—or at least a zebra that looks remarkably similar to one. Critics argue that appearance isn’t everything, and that the “Rau quaggas” (named after a project leader) being bred aren’t true quaggas.
One hundred years ago, the only parrot native to the United States went extinct fairly suddenly. Researchers haven’t pinpointed the cause—it might have been deforestation, farmers shooting them, or disease—but because Carolina parakeets are so similar to other parrot species in the Americas, they’re considered a good candidate for a de-extinction project.
Little bush moa
This flightless New Zealand bird has been gone for more than 700 years, but scientists have almost figured out its entire gene sequence, using DNA from a toe bone. If they can successfully get a bird with that DNA to hatch from an emu egg, they might be able to bring the little bush moa back to life.
Scientists already have a good start in figuring out the dodo’s gene sequence, which is the first step in de-extinction. The challenge is that dodos don’t have any close living relatives, so scientists might need to wait until cloning an extinct animal is possible before they’re able to bring the bird back.
Heath hens used to live on Martha’s Vineyard island in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but the last one died in 1932. Because the number of heath hens used to be a good indicator of how healthy their sandplain-grassland ecosystem was, and because the birds could likely still thrive, scientists are looking to revive them. Either domestic chickens or prairie chickens could be surrogates for the extinct species.
Before there were cattle as we know them today, there were aurochs, which were cowlike creatures bigger than elephants. When the last one died in Poland in 1627, it was one of the first examples of an animal’s extinction being recorded. But now they could be one of the first species to go through de-extinction. Scientists have found auroch genes in modern cattle breeds, and they’re breeding those cattle in hopes of creating a new species, called a Tauros, that would be similar to their extinct relatives.