Night of the Living Dead Pigeon

Researchers with Revive and Restore aim to bring the passenger pigeon back from extinction.

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Sequencing the complete

Sequencing the complete genome of the passenger pigeon will be relatively straightforward if sufficient tissue samples can be procured, but the site-directed mutagenesis of the genome of a living pigeon relative to convert it into a passenger pigeon is just too expensive and time-consuming to be worthwhile.

The restoration of extinct life forms raises even deeper ethical issues. Over 99% of the species that have graced our planet have come and gone as part of the natural evolutionary process. However, in recent times primarily due to human activity as much as 40% of the estimated 10 million species living today are facing potential extinction. Human decimation of the wild habitat on land and over-fishing and pollution of the oceans and lakes has apparently increased the natural rate of species extinction in the order of 500-fold. Careful consideration needs to be given as to which species should be re-incarnated and whether this should be undertaken at all. Perhaps it would be better to focus on taking better care of the species that are on the brink of extinction but still here.

To contemplate rehabilitation of ecosystems, keystone species would probably have to be given priority. Interestingly, this is likely to be predators as these maintain the balance in nature to weed out the sick and weak and prevent over-grazing. The passenger pigeon, sadly, would not be a very strong contender.

In response to the comment

In response to the comment above, as of today site directed mutagenesis of that many loci would be too difficult. However, in the future given the progress being made in oligo synthesis, I image we may one day be able to build the chromosomes of extinct species for their genome sequence if we have it. The hardest part I image will actually be getting the epigenetic states right. Birds may not have imprinting however, which could make this easier.

But honestly 10 years ago do you think people would imagine we could sequence a human genome for a few thousand dollars? Probably not. What is to say in another 10 years we won't be able to build a genome for just as little? Craig Venter's synthetic genome of 2010 was a every expensive undertaking, but not as expensive as the human genome project back in the early 2000's. Just look how far that technology has come.