Bringing the Dodo Back to Life: The Gene Editing Experiment
The Dodo, a flightless bird that once roamed the island of Mauritius and became extinct in the 17th century, may have a chance to make a comeback, thanks to the efforts of gene editing company Colossal Biosciences. The company, which has already attempted to revive the woolly mammoth and the thylacine, is now raising an additional $150 million to pursue research on the dodo and bring it back to life.
The scientists involved believe that gene editing techniques now available can be used to mine the dodo genome for key traits and reassemble them within the body of a living relative. The closest relative of the dodo is the pigeon, and the researchers plan to work with pigeon eggs and modify the genetic material of pigeons to reflect key traits of the dodo, including its flightlessness.
This will be a technically challenging task, as no one has yet managed to use gene-editing for birds. However, the process could be less stressful for the donor species than other gene-editing techniques, such as the method used for mammoths, which required implanting gene-editing material into the reproductive system of an existing relative of the species.
Lead palaeogeneticist at Colossal, Beth Shapiro, has been fascinated by the dodo for over two decades and has been working on the project for some time. She says that while it may be possible to isolate the genes that distinguish the dodo, the revived bird will never be an exact replacement for what has been lost.
Chief Executive of Colossal, Ben Lamm, believes that the recreated versions of the dodo could be “rewilded” in Mauritius, where the bird lived until it was last sighted before being hunted to extinction. He also believes that the research could assist conservation efforts for many other threatened species around the world by developing techniques that could allow scientists to discern and preserve key traits in those existing species that could be vital to help them adapt in a changing climate.
However, not everyone is on board with the idea of bringing the dodo back to life. Prof Ewan Birney, deputy director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, believes that while the technical aspects of recreating the dodo genome may be challenging, the bigger question is whether it is ethical to do so. He argues that resources should be focused on saving existing species that are in danger of extinction before attempting to bring back extinct species.
In conclusion, the gene editing experiment to bring the dodo back to life is an ambitious and controversial project that will likely spark debate among biologists and conservationists alike. While it may be possible to isolate the genes that distinguish the dodo and recreate a semblance of the extinct bird, the challenge will be in ensuring that the revived version truly serves a purpose and helps in the conservation efforts for other threatened species.