An intriguing look at the possibilities of bringing the passenger pigeon and other currently extinct species back to life.
A British science writer with a doctorate in stem cell biology and a second career as a stand-up comedian, Pilcher examines the possibility of reversing the extinction of our Neanderthal cousins as well as other creatures. “Through interdisciplinary research,” she writes, “it’s now possible to marry the secrets of ancient DNA with cutting edge genetic technology.” This is not an idle fantasy. Although we still have somewhere between 5 and 9 million species on the planet, the author quotes estimates that somewhere between 30 and 150 are becoming extinct every day. As she writes, “over 99 percent of all the species that have ever lived on Earth are no longer with us. They are extinct.” Perhaps scientists could resurrect the king of dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus rex, from fossils, but the author reminds us that T. rex was not a fussy eater; as such, a human could become a “potential entrée.” An even more enticing possibility would be reacquainting ourselves with our cousins, the Neanderthals, “the undisputed King of the Cavemen.” Pilcher reports that anthropologists have unraveled “the genetic secrets of the Neanderthal” from fossil remains. A first step in bringing them back to life might be to inject Neanderthal DNA “into a human egg that had…its only nuclear genome removed.” Modern genetic evidence shows that they have successfully interbred with humans in the path and thus could do so again. However, in Pilcher’s view, their very humanity should preclude engaging in such experimentation. The passenger pigeon is another case in point of why we can’t go back in time. Would our farmers tolerate large flocks of hungry passenger pigeons? A more likely candidate for resurrection might be the northern white rhino: there are only three remaining on Earth.
A unique perspective on our responsibility to preserve the chain of being of which we are only a part.