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Using CRISPR To Resurrect the Dead

One of our most powerful tools to fight biological obliteration is CRISPR, a burgeoning gene-editing technology that acts like a molecular blade, slicing DNA apart and allowing us to add and subtract genes at will. It’s now being used to combat invasive species, destroy antibiotic-resistance bacteria and, controversially, edit the genes of human embryos. From a report: In fact, it’s so exceptional at editing DNA that “de-extinction,” the process of bringing extinct species back from the dead, is on the table. Science has already unraveled the DNA code of long-dead species such as the woolly mammoth, the passenger pigeon and Australia’s iconic Tasmanian tiger — and now, pioneering researchers are using CRISPR to remake modern-day descendants in the image of their ancient counterparts. Could we transform an Asian elephant into a woolly mammoth? We are marching toward that reality. “The CRISPR revolution is the whole reason why we’ve been having these conversations about de-extinction,” says Ben Novak, a biologist working on restoring the extinct passenger pigeon.

There are opponents of de-extinction, however. They point to our responsibilities with species already living on the edge of extinction and ensuring we allocate resources to save them. Others are concerned about the ethics of resurrecting ancient beasts and how they might fit into current ecosystems as the planet chokes under the heavy cloud of climate change. In this era, as the planet warms and biodiversity plummets, we’re faced with a question. Should we resurrect the dead?


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