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De-Extinction: An idea worth spreading?

TEDxDeExtinction organizer Stewart Brand with presenter George Church

Wyss Core Faculty member George Church was one of 25 eminent speakers at a day-long TEDx conference in Washington, DC, called TEDxDeExtinction, which explored a bold topic: reviving extinct species and re-introducing them to the wild.

"De-extinction" is a new field under development that is made possible by rapid advancements in molecular biology that are converging with new perspectives in conservation biology. The critical questions surrounding this new field that were explored during the event, hosted by National Geographic, are: Do we have an obligation to bring back those species that we have destroyed — and if so, what are the best ways to go about it?

In addition to covering the genetic tools now available to bring back the passenger pigeon, for example, Church explored how we might revive wooly mammoths — "hypothetically a solution," he said, for challenges associated with climate change in the Arctic. After all, as they stomped across the tundra, these large herbivores kept greenhouse gases in the ground rather than in the atmosphere.

Church, like many others who delivered presentations, called for a thoughtful approach to the complex questions surrounding de-extinction: "What’s important is for this community to come together … [with] voices of practicality and pragmatism" as to what should happen next, he said.

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