Aside from a few minor successes here and there, cloning still evokes thoughts of pure science fiction, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Star Wars. However, with each passing day, cloning is starting to become closer and closer to a legitimate scientific accomplishment. That fact got us to wondering what the most legitimate targets for cloning would be. What previously extinct species could make a comeback one day? Some of the prime candidates might be:
In the early 20th century, the Huia bird (native to New Zealand) was hunted to the point of extinction for a fashion trend. Thank the Prince of York, who later became King George V, for wearing a Huia feather in his hat, after a royal visit. That sparked a fashion craze that led to mass hunting and poaching; the last official sighting of a Huia was in the 1920’s.
However, there are many well-preserved Huia birds in museums. In the late 1990’s, the students at the Hastings Boys High School in New Zealand made an inquiry about cloning the Huia back into existence. The idea was approved, though it has not yet become a reality. Hopefully, if it does happen, we can get a tame flock of pretty Huia, not bent on vengeance, Alfred Hitchcock-style.
9. Carolina Parakeet
The Carolina Parakeet was the only parakeet native to South Carolina. Most reports have it going extinct about a hundred years ago, both due to their feathers being popular in women’s hats, and having had a reputation as a nuisance and danger to cornfields.
Museums not only have stuffed parakeets, but also full and untouched eggs, making DNA cloning possible in theory. Of course, locals in South Carolina have dismissed the idea as being “from Jurassic Park.” It is a dangerous thought: if they ever find out what we did to them, we could hardly hope to contain hundreds of years of killer parakeet gut instinct.
8. Dodo Birds
The dodo was essentially a portly small pigeon with a distinctive beak. It went into extinction purely due to contact with sailors and pirates in their natural habitat. The dodo had never encountered a predator before, and would approach humans without fear. Big mistake: the pigs and dogs brought by humans would eat their eggs, and the humans found that their trusting nature made them easy to club on the head. A mere 80 years after first meeting us, the dodo were gone.
In 2007, a nearly full skeleton of a Dodo was recovered, which could be used to more fully map DNA, in hopes of one day cloning the species back into existence. Hopefully with less clubbing this time around.
7. Moa Birds
The Moa birds were hunted to extinction by the arrival of the Maori tribes in New Zealand, around the 13th century. At nearly four hundred pounds upon adulthood, the Moa were seen as an easy source of meat. However, the Moa may have well gone to extinction with even a mild hunting presence. Moa were slow to mature, and relatively easy to capture as eggs or as adolescents. Once a human element was introduced, the large flightless birds had little hope of achieving adulthood.
In 2009, a study concluded that new methods of gathering DNA could extract the DNA without destroying an entire feather. This made the possibility of cloning a Moa more plausible, though the impractically and slow growth of the species would probably still limit any examples to life in zoos. There would be little possibility of repopulating in the wild.
6. Pyrenean Ibex
The last known living Pyrenean Ibex died in 2000. The overall reason for extinction is unknown (hunting, competition for food, and disease were all listed as probable factors.) In 2009, researchers from Advanced Cell Technology were able to use DNA samples to un-extinct the Ibex for a few minutes, and actually gave birth to a female. Unfortunately, the Ibex only lived for a few minutes, due to lung problems. The experiment did raise hope though, not only for the Ibex, but also for other extinct species coming back to life.
5. Tasmanian Tiger
The “Tasmanian Tiger” or Thylacine, with its limited genetic diversity, weak bite, and susceptibility to the spread of disease, did not require human meddling to hasten its extinction in 1936.
Even today, with no hunting by humans, they would have a hard time surviving in the wild. DNA forms from Thylacines are also horribly fragmented and would make it hard to make even one sustainable animal. Though cloning them is very theoretically possible (their DNA has already been successfully inserted into mice,) the Tasmanian Tiger would likely have a limited existence outside of a protected zoo.
4. Passenger Pigeons
It is easy to say that the literal destruction of the passenger pigeon in the 19th century was due to the lack of any conservation laws, because its absolutely true. The last known passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.
In 2010, a potential full DNA strain of a passenger pigeon was constructed. There is a possibility of bringing the extinct bird back to life. However, the pigeon itself relied on mass flocks, numbering in the hundreds and thousands. It also relied on large forests, which we have less and less of every year. So, while the possibility of there one day again being Passenger Pigeons seems to be inching closer to reality, its population ever making a full-scale recovery seems highly unlikely.
In the present, the idea of human cloning faces more ethical issues than scientific ones. There are a number of ethical, as well as religious, concerns. However, strictly on the question as to whether it’s possible? Absolutely. Bringing back the dead, or making a “copy” of yourself, are all issues that will become the subject of increasingly serious debate in the coming years, which will only increase in frequency and volume as we inch closer to successfully doing so.
2. Wooly Mammoths
Nearly intact Wooly Mammoths have been found in permafrost in places like Siberia. The trick to reviving these guys is to find an intact frozen cell, as well as a living one, in order to extract the DNA properly. It seems like a million-to-one shot but, if a living elephant could carry a mammoth to term, then the possibility does remain. A success story could also open the door to reviving species such as sabertooth tigers, wooly rhinoceroses, and giant sloths.
Recently, Harvard University geneticist Thomas Church raised the intriguing possibility that Neanderthal cloning was a possibility. Science fiction (and insurance company commercials) have long been enamored with the thought of “cavemen” astride in the modern world. However, that thought is usually reserved for the idea of thawing out a specimen who magically jumps back to life, rather than cloning new Neanderthals.
There is a lot of a professional skepticism as to whether Church’s plan would indeed work. There is also a debate as to purpose. Would you create a human-type creature merely for study, or would colonies of Neanderthals actually be established in the modern world?