Can we please bring back dinosaurs?
It’s finally happened. My favourite part of the InScience Filmfestival, the Big Idea Talks, welcomes a female speaker. And not just any! Britt Wray has a PhD in science communication, co-hosts the Tomorrow’s World podcast on the BBC, and is a TED resident. She also wrote a successful book with the title Rise of Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics and Risks of De-Extinction. I bet hér plants stay alive…
Wray’s presentation is about re-introducing extinct animal species. Obviously I had already heard about this principle. I’ve seen all the Jurassic Park movies. But it appears that this phenomenon is not as outlandish as I thought. Already a mountain goat from an extinct species has been born. Granted, the poor thing lived for about 10 minutes, but technically they did succeed.
And with that, Wray touches upon a sensitive issue. Giving life to previously extinct animals is not all that fun for the animals that are forced to participate. In the case of Dolly, the cloned sheep, 277 tries were required to create 29 embryos that, apart from Dolly, all died before they were born. To bring back, for example, the woolly mammoth we would need a surrogate mother: a job most suited for the Asian elephant, which by itself is already endangered.
So why begin at all? Because it’s super cool? To make us feel better about the part we have played in the extinction of so many species? Or because reintroducing certain animals would benefit ecosystems? In the case of the woolly mammoth, the latter is a much-used argument. Because these ancient giants graze in herds, they could help to slow down the thawing of the now-not-so-perma permafrost.
By the way, these mammoths would never be the same species as the ones that roamed the earth thousands of years ago. They are lost forever. At most, the new beasts would be an approximation of their ancient relatives. Immediately I think: but how awesome would it be if we could create a lookalike of the dinosaurs? Even if it’s a small and boring one without spines or sharp teeth. Wray quickly shatters my dreams: 66 million years is much too long ago to find a usable sample to work with. @InScience: for next year, can we please invite someone who knows something about time traveling?
Text: Regina Behoekoe
Photo: Almicheal Fraay