Does not the re-creation of extinct animals interfere with the natural course of evolution?
It can also be considered a repair. For it is man who has been responsible for the extinction of the species for 50,000 years. And often unfair.
I am thinking, for example, of the auks, the victim of an unlimited hunt when it counted millions of individuals. The last pair were killed in 1852 by Icelandic fishermen, who also crushed the egg that the female incubated. More generally, such reintroductions would be justified if they resulted in “rewilding”, that is, if their appearance also made it possible to restore the function of ecosystems that had disappeared. A Russian physicist, Sergei Zimov, is working on this project in Siberia: for him, the reintroduction of large mammals as bison would have a positive effect on global warming, because these animals would release the permafrost from the snow layer, which against -intuitive, has tend to heat it up.
But should we not first have to provide natural environments (plants, etc.) that are accommodating to these species?
If, of course, they need to be helped to adapt. For example, for mammoths, trees need to be felled to clear the large open spaces they need. But then the animals themselves, by their presence, their browsing, would create their steppe, would restore a lost biodiversity.
Is there not a risk of reintroducing predators that could threaten living species?
Of course, we will have to think about it, but the appearance of predators can be beneficial in regulating certain populations. For example, in Europe there is a shortage of predators by certain herbivores: the few wolves are not enough.
Are we currently technically close to the possibility of reviving animals that have disappeared from the face of the earth?
It’s actually already done. For example, a ibex endemic to the Pyrenees, christened Celia, was accidentally killed in the early 2000s by a falling tree. This she was the last living specimen of her species, which is why scientists had taken cells from her in anticipation of the disappearance of her genus. Ten years later, a team succeeded in implanting Celia cells in the goat eggs: a pregnancy, then a birth took place, even though the lamb lived only a few minutes. There are dozens of Celia’s clone embryos left that could one day be implanted.
The prerequisite for being able to make a missing animal reappear is to have its DNA. But where can we find it?
In animals kept in collections, but it is of lower quality than that found in animal carcasses kept in permafrost, the frozen soil is found mainly in Siberia. With the global warming and melting of this permafrost, there are more and more very well-preserved animals. A Russian-Japanese team even observed biological activity, that is, living cells, in mammoths that had been dead for 10,000 years. This discovery opens up the possibility of implanting this genome in a dense species, the Asian elephant, to obtain a small mammoth. American researchers are already working on it, and results can be achieved within ten or twenty years.
Does DNA have a memory? Would these laboratory-designed animals behave like their ancestors?
We do not know exactly. First, it would not be necessary to give birth to a single individual, but about fifty. For if behavior is innate, there is a lot of learning in mammals.
Too old, DNA technically does not allow an animal to be reborn. Does this therefore deprive us of the opportunity to see the tyrannosaurus or diplodocus reappear?
The oldest DNA found goes back 1.6 million years: It’s an American mammoth. But dinosaurs go back 66 million years. So we only find this DNA in small amounts, we can do nothing about it. The only option we would have to revive them would be to use the genome of their descendants who live among us today: the birds. For this, it will be necessary to unlock genes, such as the growth of teeth, tail, etc., so that they regain their previous characteristics. But truth be told, there would be no point in reintroducing dinosaurs today.
Can we imagine reviving species that have never rubbed shoulders with humans?
Most megafauna species have been in contact with humans. But it is up to humans to ask: are they ready to live with new wild species, to accept the return of this megafauna? Admittedly, a century ago it was not possible to reintroduce the bear or the wolf into Europe, whereas today the population is favorable to it. But in general, humans have a hard time accepting wildlife: in 2016, 1,350,000 people worldwide died on the roads in 2016, and about ten after the shark attack. What made the headlines? Sharks are more scary than cars …
Would it not be better to protect endangered species than to bring them back?
The two are not incompatible. It goes without saying that it is more than ever crucial to do everything possible to preserve species that are threatened with extinction. But eradication projects would be complementary. In addition, and this is a final argument, if successful, it would be up to the Europeans to take part in the protection of this global megafauna, a responsibility that today rests with Africa, where this diversity is concentrated.
To read: “Revive extinct species? », Med Nadir Alvarez, ed. Favor, € 22.