By Rachel Leong
The problem of rapid animal extinction is concerning for many of us. Recently, I heard about the critically endangered Sumatran Rhino. It made me worry about the future of biodiversity. Some say that it is too late to turn back time. However, is that really true? What if scientists can revive extinct animals from the past? De-extinction is re-creating an extinct species or something very similar.
Cloning is the most popular and common method. The nucleus of a preserved cell from an extinct animal is inserted into an egg. Then through a surrogate mother, the embryo slowly develops normally. This method is better for recently extinct species or frozen animals because the cell is better preserved. In 1997, scientists were able to clone Dolly the famous sheep using this process.
Selective or back breeding is finding living species with similar traits to the extinct species. Scientists would keep breeding similar animal traits until they have bred the closest version of an animal to the original extinct version. Of course, this method is not genetically identical. By breeding various heritage cattle and looking at DNA on fossils, scientists have created cattle very similar to aurochs.
Genetic engineering is the newest way to de-extinction using CRISPR. CRISPR is a tool that changes DNA sequences and modifies gene function. Using computer programming, scientists can target and edit specific sections of DNA. First, the RNA finds the nucleus (central control center) of a cell. Then, a precise portion of DNA is cut. When the DNA molecule breaks, the cell tries to fix it. This can disable, fix or insert a new gene. CRISPR may also correct mutations and treat some diseases in the future. Having this technology, scientists can put the extinct animal genes into a living animal. Although the animal may not look like the extinct version, it can behave similarly.
What can we do to reduce the number of animals going extinct? In order to protect endangered species, it is important for humans to their part. Educating people around you and bringing awareness to this biodiversity problem is crucial. In addition, we can all recycle, grow plants/trees, reduce water consumption, and volunteer!