Bringing Extinct Animals Back to Life

By Alice Orszulok

Scientists make a fresh effort to clone an extinct mountain goat out of preserved cells.

The loss of a species is one of the most terrible losses to bear, particularly since the majority of extinctions are caused by human influences. However, what was sci-fi fantasy only a few decades ago is becoming closer to reality.

The bucardo (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica), a type of mountain goat, became extinct in 2000, but cells from the last animal—a female goat named Celia—were frozen and preserved in liquid nitrogen. Scientists are now testing to see if the 14-year-old cells can be used to clone the animal, and bring the extinct species back to life.

“At this moment, we are not initiating a ‘bucardo recovery plan’, we only want to know if Celia’s cells are still alive after having been maintained frozen during 14 years in liquid nitrogen,” Dr Alberto Fernandez-Arias, one of the scientists working on the cloning, told BBC News.

As well as attempting to make a clone out of Celia’s cells, the researchers hope to clone embryos and put them in regular female goats. By doing this, one or more female bucardos could be ‘made,’ which would then encourage the researchers to consider a recovery plan for these extinct animals.

This isn’t the first time scientists have tried to bring an animal back from the dead. Earlier this year there was an attempt to bring back the Australian gastric-brooding frog, and in 2009 researchers first tried cloning a baby bucardo using the cells from Celia. Unfortunately, the experiment failed after the newborn goat died after its lungs collapsed shortly after birth.

Some people argue that just because we can bring back extinct animals, doesn’t mean we should. One of the main arguments is that de-extinction will not make us better conservationalists, and may in fact make us the opposite. If we can bring species back from the dead, we may become cavalier about extinction, leading us to continue recklessly destroying the planet believing that we can repair the damage later on.

However, other people including Ryan Phelan, executive director of the Revive & Restore project at the Long Now Foundation, believe that de-extinction will enhance conservation efforts. “I think it takes the inspiring vision of de-extinction to help move all of this forward,” he told Salon. “As controversial as all of it is, and possibly because it’s controversial, it’s going to help drive interest in a way that conservation by itself couldn’t do… We’re calling attention to the extinction threat.”

Source [BBC News]

Keyword [Extinction]

Extinction of a particular animal or plant means that there is no more of that species alive anywhere in the world—it has become extinct. This is a natural part of evolution, however human interventions, such as hunting and habitat destruction, can speed up these processes.