AUSTIN (KXAN) – You have never seen the dodo bird in your lifetime. Driven to extinction by humans on the island of Mauritius in 1692, the species has become a thing of legend. But it could soon be brought back to life.
“What’s so great about the dodo is it has become an iconic flag or face of extinction really,” said Forrest Galante, a scientist who serves as a conservation advisor to Colossal Biosciences.
The company, which has offices in Austin, plans to “de-extinct” the species alongside some other well-known extinct species, the woolly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger.
“Those are all incredibly important species for the ecosystem. But they’re also splashy, big topical ones,” Galante said about the choice to bring these species back.
According to the company, all three will be de-extinct within the next decade.
Should we bring back extinct animals?
Brining back extinct animals, Galante said, isn’t just because we can. “In the case of the dodo, it puts back something at the top of the food chain.”
The dodo bird was a giant, flightless pigeon. “It had no natural predators on the island of Mauritius,” Galante said. The island, off the east coast of Africa, was visited by sailors in the early 1600’s.
“When sailors arrived there, truly out of sheer boredom, they would walk around the island and bump them on the head, because there was nothing else to do on the island.”
By 1692, the species was extinct.
Removing the bird created a gap in the ecosystem of the environment. Restoring it, in theory, should help fill that gap.
“You’re bringing back a creature, an individual and a group of them that will most importantly, repair a damaged ecosystem, because they’ve been removed by human beings.”
How do you bring back an extinct species?
Just like in Jurassic Park, DNA is required to bring back an extinct animal. DNA from species like the dodo bird and woolly mammoth can be recovered, whereas DNA from dinosaurs and other older species is too degraded to bring back.
According to Galante, this DNA is then incubated into a related species that is living today. In the case of the dodo bird, a pigeon is used.
When the pigeon lays eggs, dodo birds will hatch from the eggs. The new dodos will not be the exact same type of bird, but close enough to fill the gaps their extinction left behind.
Colossal plans to establish wildlife refuges for the de-extinct species. The dodo will be raised on Mauritius while the mammoth will be kept in a refuge in the arctic. Humans will not be allowed to visit.
“We’re not creating a de-extinction petting zoo,” Galante said. The refuges will be carefully managed.
Humans’ impact on the environment
According to Galante, it is our duty to repair these ecosystems. “Human beings are the sixth great mass extinction event, we’ve accelerated the rate of extinction, a million fold.”
Galante said restoring these species is just one way we can repair the damage we’ve caused.