Posts Tagged ‘revive and restore’

Using Genetic Engineering to Bring Back Extinct Species

August 10, 2014

Activist objections to the use of genetically modified organisms are illogical.  Their campaign to have products labeled as containing GMOs is unnecessary and misleading.  There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that GMOs are harmful for human consumption.  The difference in the chemical composition  between a natural organism and a genetically modified one is not significant.  Forcing companies to label products as containing GMOs, unfairly hurts sales because of all the ignoramuses who wrongly perceive these products to be harmful.  A label or name for a product is a critical marketing attribute.  Call a dish cornmeal mush and it’s worth 25 cents; but call it polenta (the exact same thing) and in a fancy restaurant, it’s sold for $25.

Some organic farmers complain about pollen from GMOs drifting onto their fields and contaminating their produce.  Organic produce is another word for “more expensive” produce.  Organic produce is not healthier nor is it superior in quality to any other produce.  In fact it’s often worse.    If we depended on organic produce for all of our food supply, the human race would rapidly starve to death.  The organic produce market is a scam, and I see no reason to shed tears if these crooks can’t have their produce certified as organic.  They’ll just have to sell their fruits and vegetables at regular prices.

It’s a shame anti-science zealots have tarnished GMOs with such a negative perception.  Many developments in this biotechnology are ingenious.  For example scientists learned how to take a gene found in wheat and splice it into American chestnut DNA.   This gene makes an enzyme that destroys the toxin produced by the blight that wiped out chestnut forests in North America (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/pleistocene-chestnut-woodlands/). These genetically modified American chestnut trees have greater resistance to the blight than the Chinese chestnuts being used to create resistant hybrids.  There are thousands of genetically modified American chestnut trees growing in New York test plots.  Researchers are seeking regulatory approval to expand the areas where they can plant these new trees.  Permission is expected to be granted soon because they are not asking that the nuts be approved for human consumption.  It’s likely that in a few centuries, the American chestnut will once again become a dominant tree in eastern North America, thanks to genetic modification.

Genetically modified chestnut tree that is resistant to chestnut blight.

Technically, American chestnuts were not extinct.  But genetic engineers are attempting to bring back completely extinct organisms.  A non-profit organization, known as the Revive and Restore Project, has a whole list of candidates for restoration, including passenger pigeons, Carolina parakeets, red Cuban macaws, ivory-billed woodpeckers, imperial woodpeckers, moas, thylacines, Caribbean monk seals, woolly rhinos, and woolly mammoths. (See: http://longnow.org/revive/candidates/)  Currently, they are working on the restoration of the passenger pigeon (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/pleistocene-passenger-pigeon-populations/).  Scientists are studying the genome of the band-tailed pigeon–the passenger pigeon’s closest living relative.  And they are studying the genome of the passenger pigeon obtained from the DNA of numerous museum specimens.  They are comparing the genomes of both species and are hoping to convert band-tailed pigeon DNA to passenger pigeon DNA.  Some day, within our lifetimes, passenger pigeons may once again fly in the America woods.  However, I’m doubtful they will be able to successfully re-establish themselves.  In order to survive this species required the existence of very large colonies, and a few dozen birds released back into the wild would probably get eaten by predators within a few weeks.

Band-tailed Pigeon Photo

Band-tailed pigeon.  It’s the closest living relative to the extinct passenger pigeon.  Scientists believe they can re-create the passenger pigeon from the band-tailed pigeon genome.

Scientists speculate the technology needed to bring woolly mammoths back to life is at least 50 years away.  With today’s technology, DNA from a woolly mammoth would have to be implanted in 1000 elephant eggs to have a chance of 1 viable mammoth offspring.  Elephants are too rare to obtain this many eggs.  However, some day scientists should be able to reprogram good quality cells found from mammoth specimens recovered from Siberian permafrost into stem cells that can then be used to clone a mammoth.

woolly-mammoth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woolly mammoth.  I’m afraid we won’t see a live one in our lifetimes.  But maybe our children or grandchildren will.

Arguments against bringing back extinct organisms are nonsensical.  Some say humans shouldn’t play God.  Humans already play God by completely modifying every environment on earth.  Everything man does alters the earth in some way.  Others see a Jurassic Park scenario.  That movie was ridiculous.  A few men with high powered rifles could annihilate an army of dinosaurs in a few minutes.  None of the candidate species pose any threat to man and would only enrich our now impoverished ecosystems.

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