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Frontiers of Biogeography

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From dinosaurs to dodos: who could and should we de-extinct?


Reviving extinct species with new synthetic biology tools is as exciting an idea as it is controversial. Genomic manipulation of extinct species’ close relatives and/or cloning suitably preserved cells are the two main ways synthetic biology could be used to revive species. Discussions of where to target initial revival efforts have focused on species’ charisma (e.g. Woolly mammoth, Passenger pigeon) with less emphasis on feasibility or the ecological, ethical and legal considerations. Here I discuss who we could and should de-extinct, focussing on these latter criteria. Given the current devastating anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity, I suggest that a better use of de-extinction technologies would be to focus them on preventing species extinctions by restoring populations of critically endangered species. For example, this could be through increasing population numbers through cloning or genomic manipulation to better enable susceptible species to adapt to global change or by restoring genetic diversity by reviving extinct sub-species (e.g. Quagga, Barbary lion). This idea circumvents many of the criticisms of de-extinction from conservationists, whilst retaining public interest in de-extinction.

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