In a recent conversation with a friend I mentioned my internship at Genome compiler; a software tool for viewing and altering genomes, made specifically for the use in synthetic biology. He joked that our software could be used for recreating dinosaurs and other extinct organisms like in the hit film “Jurassic Park”, and I replied that it would be used for more level-headed reasons like creation of biofuels, medicine, and food. However, efforts to synthetically resurrect extinct organisms might not be science fiction.
Revive and Restore is a group designed to enhance biodiversity by saving endangered species and restore extinct species, through various biological procedures. The group’s website describes three possible techniques including genome editing technique developed by Harvard University professor George Church. You can read a summary about these techniques here.
The group has developed a list of candidates for De-extinction, including the Dodo: a flightless bird last seen roughly 400 years ago.
The Woolly Mammoth: an organism about the size of modern African elephants, estimated to emerge 200,000 years ago and last seen 10,000 years ago. It is expected that these revived species will be nearly identical on a genetic level, and will assume the same ecological role as their ancestors.
The Xerces Blue Butterfly: believed to be the first American butterfly to become extinct due to urban development. This species was first documented in 1853, and last seen in 1943
Unfortunately for my friend, dinosaurs are probably not a viable organism for revival, because they became extinct 65 million years ago. No cells or nuclei can survive 65 million years, which means their DNA is unavailable for genetic restoration. Scientists have recovered DNA from species which became extinct 10,000 years ago, but it seems unlikely that species last seen tens of millions of years in the past would retain viable DNA.
The revival of endangered and extinct species is yet another example of how synthetic biology can create new phenomena which was once considered science fiction, to expand our world. And while a Jurassic Park may sound a bit farfetched, I would love to eat a fresh Dodo-burger for dinner tonight.
"Revive & Restore | Genetic Rescue of Endangered and Extinct Species." Revive & Restore. The Long Now Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013. <http://longnow.org/revive/>.