The dodo, an extinct species, weighed around 50 pounds, had grey and blue feathers, and was incapable of flight. Daid Tipling, Educational Years, and University Years Getty Images GroupA biotechnology company has garnered media attention over the past 18 months with its ambitious aspirations to genetically recreate the woolly mammoth and the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. The dodo bird was added to the company’s list of animals that need to be saved from extinction on Tuesday.
Lead paleogeneticist at Colossal Beth Shapiro tells Vice’s Becky Ferreira, “I’ve always been fascinated with the dodo.” It serves as a tragic example of how habitat modification can drive a species to extinction.Dodos once lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, but human explorers and the imported animals they brought with them killed them to extinction by the end of the 17th century. Now, Colossal claims that manipulating the genes of its close relatives will allow it to bring back the gigantic flightless bird. According to Matt Reynolds of Wired,
in this way, it might develop an animal that performs an ecological function similar to that of the dodo.But even with the mammoth or thylacine, scientists are still a long way from making such a discovery about the dodo. According to Antonio Regalado of the MIT Technology Review, they are currently developing the genetic pathways necessary to accomplish this. In contrast, several researchers have doubts about the company’s ability to achieve its goals.
According to Jeremy Austin, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, “de-extinction is a fairytale science,” he told Lia Mannix of the Sydney Morning Herald last year. People like us can see very clearly that saving the thylacine or woolly mammoth is more about getting the scientists’ attention than it is about conducting rigorous research.
The scientists intend to modify the genes of the Nicobar pigeon, the dodo’s closest living relative, in order to replicate some aspects of its era. They have already been successful in deciphering the genetic code from extinct species’ ancient DNA. Shapiro tells CNN’s Katie Hunt that the next step is to remove germ cells from a pigeon egg, modify the genes to make the cells more resembling those of a dodo,
and then transplant the cells back into the pigeon egg. Chickens have been successfully bred using this method, but the dodo project is uncharted ground.”There are so many things that urgently require our assistance. And money,” says Julian Hume, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, to CNN. When there are so many things in need right now, why would you even bother trying to remember something that has long since passed away?