Let’s Dodo It Again | God's World News

Let’s Dodo It Again

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    Dr. Beth Shapiro and Ben Lamm, co-founder of Colossal Biosciences, want to bring the dodo back from extinction. (AP/Colossal Biosciences)
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    Nicobar pigeons are the dodo’s closest living relative, based on DNA similarities. (123RF)
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    This life-size reconstruction of an extinct dodo bird is at a museum in Frankfurt, Germany. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP)
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    A skeleton of a dodo bird is displayed before an auction. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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    Co-founders of Colossal Biosciences, Ben Lamm, left, and Dr. George Church want to bring back the woolly mammoth too. (AP/Business Wire)
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Dead as a dodo? Think again. One company has plans to bring the dodo bird back from extinction. Sort of.

The last dodo died in 1681 on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Since then, the dodo has become the unofficial mascot of extinct species. That’s partly what makes bringing it back such a tantalizing prospect.

“The dodo is a symbol of man-made extinction,” says Ben Lamm.

Lamm is the co-founder and CEO of Colossal Biosciences. This flashy company has a unique take on conservation. Instead of preventing extinction, Colossal plans to undo it through genetics.

Genes are made of DNA. They determine a creature’s features. How tall? Tail or no tail? Recent technologies allow scientists to “edit” these genes.

Two years ago, Colossal announced plans to use this science to bring back the woolly mammoth. Now the brains in the genetics game want to do the same with the bygone bird.

But how can gene editing restore a lost species?

To revive the dodo, scientists will study Nicobar pigeons. These colorful crow-sized birds might not look much like the flightless, turkey-sized dodo. But DNA testing reveals they’re truly birds of a feather. Genetically speaking, the Nicobar pigeon is the dodo’s closest living cousin.

The scientists at Colossal will study the differences between the birds. According to Dr. Beth Shapiro, one of Colossal’s lead scientists, they can learn what genes “really make a dodo a dodo.” Then they can edit pigeon cells to look like dodo cells. These cells would be inserted into the eggs of other birds.

But what exactly will hatch?  

“It’s not possible to recreate a 100% identical copy of something that’s gone,” says Dr. Shapiro. Animals are shaped by their environment, not just their genes. Colossal’s dodo would never exactly match the original. The dodo’s habitat has long since changed.

So what would happen to these brand-new dodos? Without other dodos to learn from, could they ever survive in the wild?

Some scientists see “de-extinction” as a distraction from the real work: preventing extinction before it happens.

“There’s a real hazard in saying that if we destroy nature, we can just put it back together again,” says Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University. “Because we can’t.”

Humans have a responsibility to take care of God’s world. But what happens when science offers a big “undo” button for our mistakes? Can science truly offer a path to the past—or will the future depend on people living responsibly here and now?

Why? Even when science provides easy answers, we still have a responsibility to treat the world with wisdom.

View a bubble map that shows how one event (such as efforts to bring back the dodo) can lead to another.