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De-Extinction: How Close Are We To A Real-Life ‘Jurassic Park?’

ACTOR SAM NEILL IN A SCENE FROM THE NEW FILM JURASSIC PARK IIICould we be getting close to seeing a real-life ‘Jurassic Park?’ Quite possibly, as new advances in DNA and ‘De-Extinction’ campaigns take hold. Steven Spielberg amazed audiences with his 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s ‘Jurassic Park’ novel, but where once audiences were wowed by the computer animation effects, we are now getting closer to the movie theme park becoming a possible reality.

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‘Jurassic Park’ centered around the fictional Isla Nublar near Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, where a billionaire philanthropist and a small team of genetic scientists created an amusement park of cloned dinosaurs. However, in reality, the whole world will become the ‘park’ as moves are afoot to bring previously extinct species back to life, but before you start imagining a T-Rex walking down your street, don’t worry, things are not that big just yet!

 

Scientists are currently looking at how to reverse the loss of a number of species that were made extinct due to human interaction. It is felt that humanity has created great gaps in the eco-system by hunting animals to extinction. Take the Passenger Pigeon for example, there were once millions of them flying across America in huge flocks, but now there are none. Elsewhere, grazing cattle breeds have been lost, and other species besides…

 

By taking the DNA from extinct animals it is hoped that these species can be bred once-again and re-integrated into the wild. To do this, scientists are looking at a form of surrogacy for the previously extinct breeds. There have already been successes whereby chickens have had their reproductive organs adapted so that, instead of giving birth to chickens, they are producing hawks.

 

While this all sounds a bit far-fetched, it is a reality, and scientists see that such surrogacy could be used for extinct animals too. If the DNA extracted from a Passenger Pigeon can be adapted and inserted into a different type of bird, then it could soon be returned to the skies. In this case, the fledgling Passenger Pigeon would even be provided with foster-parent pigeons, who would teach it all the useful skills it needs in the wide world.

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As this work progresses, we could see a number of animals becoming ‘De-Extinct’ right up to, and including, the Wooly Mammoth!

 

However, it is not just these lost species that can be helped with this science, as endangered species’ can also benefit. While conservation efforts have done wonders for some seriously endangered species, such as the African Mountain Gorilla, others are still in a critically endangered state.

 

By storing the DNA of these animals, we can ensure that we at least have a frozen ‘database’ from which to work, and perhaps as the technology improves we could, for example, perhaps even see baby pandas born to surrogate, non-panda parents, or even the white rhino saved from the brink of extinction.

 

Of course, with this sort of work there are always going to be ethical questions. Is it right for humans to ‘interfere’ with nature in this manner?

 

While I certainly think that any work of this sort needs to be done with extreme caution, it can just as easily be argued that where humans were responsible for a species becoming extinct (through hunting for example), then perhaps we should see what we can do to mend the situation again.

 

As for that real-life ‘Jurassic Park,’ I doubt it will happen anytime soon, but it is definitely getting closer to the realms of possibility!

 

- Taylor

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