Is Bringing Back Extinct Species Worth the Cost?

Image: Mauricio Antón, Wikimedia Commons

Scientists are getting closer to reviving extinct species — but are the benefits worth losing species we already have? 

The theoretical idea began with the legendary Jurassic Park and it is becoming a reality now more than ever before. The ability to manipulate DNA has opened the doorway into a whole new realm of science.

The idea of de-extinction is most aptly highlighted by recent research into resurrecting the wooly mammoth using technology known as CRISPR. CRISPR allows scientists to cut and paste DNA strands from one animal to another with extreme precision, paving the way to the rebirth of extinct species using their preserved DNA inserted into other animals and in turn growing a hybrid fetus.

Image: Michael Ströck, Wikimedia Commons

For Harvard biologist George Church, this means resurrecting the wooly mammoth utilizing Asian elephant DNA, which in addition to rebirthing an extinct animal gives an endangered species a chance to thrive again.

(Read more about resurrecting the wooly mammoth)

Although there has been moderate success in these scientific advancements, the physical revitalization of an extinct species is still years away. In addition to the scientific hurdles of these projects, there is an important controversy that disputes the process entirely.

What about the species we already have?

Protecting endangered species currently on the planet is an uphill battle — one that requires more monetary resources than we are using. Rebirthing extinct species may do more harm than good in the long run as it would undeniably divert away limited conservation funds. The financial cost of de-extinction may not offset the benefits, and will surely result in further loss of species currently on our planet.

Researchers are currently weighing the benefits and costs of de-extinction. In a study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, they stated reintroduction of one species could at best be neutral but at worst harm up to 14 existing species.