De-Extinction: Right or Wrong?


Kian Wjnaendts van Resandt '24, Writer

What is De-extinction?

De-extinction, otherwise named “resurrection biology”, is a subject that recently caught my attention. De-extinction is the process of bringing species that have gone extinct back to life. The first successful de-extinction was in 2003 and it was done by Alberto Fernández-Arias and his team in Spain. They resurrected a bucardo, an extinct species of wild goat, through cloning. Unfortunately, the bucardo only survived 10 minutes and died of respiratory failure. However, this was a massive breakthrough that proved it was indeed possible to bring extinct animal species back to life. Now if you’re afraid that any further development in de-extinction will cause the events of Jurassic Park to become reality, fear not because I certainly hope (and sincerely believe) that there aren’t people ignorant enough to create a genetically engineered, highly bloodthirsty, and intelligent dinosaur species and put it right in the middle of a highly populated dinosaur theme park (with many tasty snacks for such dinosaurs). Not to mention that even though there are dinosaur fossils, none of their DNA is salvageable.

There are three different methods to resurrect an extinct species. The first method is called back-breeding. Back-breeding uses selective breeding to combine ancestral phenotypes (physical traits) of a large group of a particular species into one animal. This method only preserves the phenotype of the extinct species, while the genes may differ. The second method to de-extinction is cloning. This process is intended to create genetically identical copies of an extinct species by using preserved somatic cells (body cells, not reproductive cells). These cells are then fused with the egg cells of a closely related, and living, species to create an embryo which will then eventually become a replica of the original extinct species. However, this method is unlikely to work for organisms that have been extinct for a long time because their genetic material may not have survived. The third method is genetic engineering in which the genome sequence of a living cell is edited to more closely resemble that of the extinct species. This newly edited genome can then be used for SCNT which stands for somatic cell nuclear transfer. In SCNT, the nucleus of a somatic cell is removed from its own cell and placed into an egg cell with its nucleus removed (if you want to know more about SCNT technology click this link). 

Morality: Right

The question of whether or not de-extinction is right or wrong can be extensively analyzed. De-extinction is a revolutionary concept that can do so much. Who knows? Maybe in the future, we’ll have resurrected dodo birds (and who doesn’t want that?) or even extinct flora. Resurrection biology can be used to bring back plants as well as animals which brings the possibility of more diverse ecosystems than ever before. It’s also quite possible that extinct plants were quite delicious or could be instrumental in the field of medicine.

Recently, a company called Colossal invested $15 million in private funding to resurrect the wooly mammoth. As of September of 2021, a team of entrepreneurs and scientists announced that they were starting this company to accomplish such a massive undertaking. Their goal is to bring thousands of mammoths to the Siberian tundra (“A New Company with a Wild Mission: Bring Back the Woolly Mammoth”). Their goal is to accomplish this within 10 years. Now, the question is whether or not doing something like this is ethical (I’m using the Wooly Mammoth de-extinction as the focal point of this analysis for two reasons: it is a recent development and Wooly Mammoths are awesome animals). On the “pro” side, the benefits of this include, but are not limited to, a broadening of humanity’s understanding of biology and the genome and a more diverse ecosystem.

Humans have gone far down the road of understanding how our own bodies function. We classified every single bit of the human body from the different organelles and the chemicals that are involved in their functions, to the broader body parts like arteries, bones, and organs. Genetic engineering has also improved to the point where we can even clone animals successfully. Even though many cloned animals don’t survive, some do and that is a success. It means that it is possible to do. Colossal has 10 main goals, one of which is to improve understanding of CRISPR editing.

In reality, Colossal isn’t actually resurrecting the Wooly Mammoth. Instead, they are attempting to biologically engineer a cold-resistant elephant with all of the “core biological traits” of the Wooly Mammoth. The company claims that bringing back the Wooly Mammoth will help restore arctic grasslands, which in turn help with the carbon emissions. The return of the Mammoth Steppe is also important because it played a “colossal” role in regulating the planet’s ecosystem. 

The ecosystem is obviously important. Nobody wants climate change to happen. So, bringing back mammoths could be a beneficial thing.


Morality: Wrong

While there are positive outcomes to resurrecting extinct species, there are, of course, risks involved. For example, if the cloning process is used, the animal could suffer greatly just like the bucardo that was resurrected did (the goat mentioned earlier). These animals could be brought back to life, but they might have a terrible disease or suffer excruciating pain. However sad, it is a common practice to put down animals that are suffering. If these animals die of natural causes after a short time or if they have to be mercy killed, Does that mean that it’s really worth hurting animals for the advancement of science?

There are environmental risks along with medical ones. There is not any real guarantee that resurrected species will do as well in their environment as their “forefathers” did. They could even end up damaging their ecosystem due to an overlooked disease that might spread to other animals or even humans. Not to mention the fact that resurrection biology can be used to bring back extinct human species such as neanderthals. There have already been debates about the bioethics of doing something like that.

The real danger is humans playing God. The thing is, humans have a tendency to be greedy. Sometimes it is less extreme than other times, but Humanity will always want more, whether that is wealth, power, or knowledge. Out of these three, knowledge is arguably the most important. Wealth and power wane over time, but knowledge almost always remains. There have been occurrences in history where some knowledge has been lost, like the recipe for the Ancient Greek’s “Greek Fire” or the libraries burned by tyrants and oppressors. Nevertheless, humans always seek more knowledge. Knowledge is power, after all. But when Humanity’s need for the knowledge to understand the universe goes too far, to the point where innocent beings are being harmed, that is when it has to stop.



Works Cited

Colossal. “May Prehistory Thunder Forward: The Resurrection of the Woolly Mammoth.”, 2021, Accessed 23 Apr. 2022.

“De-Extinction | Definition, History, Ethics, & Facts | Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2022, Accessed 5 Apr. 2022.

Martinelli, Lucia, et al. “De-Extinction: A Novel and Remarkable Case of Bio-Objectification.” Croatian Medical Journal, vol. 55, no. 4, Aug. 2014, pp. 423–427,,enough%20to%20the%20extinct%20species., 10.3325/cmj.2014.55.423. Accessed 5 Apr. 2022.

Shapiro, Beth. “Pathways to De-Extinction: How Close Can We Get to Resurrection of an Extinct Species?” Functional Ecology, vol. 31, no. 5, 9 Aug. 2016, pp. 996–1002,, 10.1111/1365-2435.12705.

“Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer | Definition, Steps, Applications, & Facts | Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2022, Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.