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Lost, But Perhaps Not Gone Forever

Only one species has been brought back from extinction, but it — the Pyrenean ibex — didn't last very long the second time around, just minutes, writes the New York Times. Researchers had used a cloning technique to try to bring the ibex back, and in similar attempts, Australian researchers are working to clone the southern gastric brooding frog, which, as its name suggests, used its stomach as a womb. Other species being eyed included woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats as well as passenger pigeons. A TedX talk last week focused on de-extinction.

"Maybe we can no longer delay death, but we can reverse it," Harvard Medical School's George Church tells the Times.

The Australian researchers, Ed Yong adds at Not Exactly Rocket Science, have gotten the frog to the embryo stage. Mike Archer from the University of New South Wales tells Yong that such cloning projects are necessary, and will become more important, as more species disappear.

"If we're talking about species we drove extinct, then I think we have an obligation to try to do this," Archer tells Carl Zimmer at National Geographic.

Others, though, argue that such efforts will detract from can be done to save species that are teetering on the edge of extinction today.

"I can't help but think that we can't even take care of what we've got, and now we're going to invest in very expensive techniques to recover a handful of special-interest species that may or may not be able to survive in the wild on their own," Karen Lips from the University of Maryland tells Yong.

Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford University, highlights other ethical issues for the Times, including the effect that de-extinction would have on the Endangered Species Act. But for many like Greely, there is also a "sense of wonder" surrounding such projects, the Times says.

"For me, it's just would just be so cool to see a woolly mammoth or a saber tooth tiger or a ground sloth," Greely says.