The dodo was a large plump bird with a friendly temperament that through evolution had lost the ability to fly. According to historical accounts, it was bigger than a turkey and could reach a body weight of more than twenty kilograms. It had blue-grey plumage, a long hooked beak and tiny wings.
Dodos became extinct nearly four hundred years ago. They were once endemic to Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean where no natural predators threatened their existence. However, in the late 16th century Dutch sailors arrived on the island. They hunted the docile bird, and brought animals with them, including dogs, cats, pigs and monkeys as well as rats from the ships, which destroyed the ground nests and ate the eggs. By the late 17th century dodos were extinct.
bringing back the dodo
This year the US startup Colossal Biosciences announced plans to bring back or ‘de-extinct’ the dodo. So far, they have raised $150 million to finance the project. The scientific team has already managed to sequence the DNA of a dodo, but once the genome is fully decoded, they must figure out a way to put the dodo genes into the embryo of a living animal. Some scientists think that the Nicobar pigeon, the closest living relative of the dodo, could have its DNA modified to include some dodo DNA. This means that, hypothetically, when these pigeon eggs hatch, a recreated version of the dodo will be born.
NOT 100 PER CENT DODO
Some years ago, Colossal Biosciences announced a similar project to revive both the woolly mammoth and the Tasmanian tiger, other lost species. However, the dodo is more challenging as less genomic research has been performed on birds than on mammals. Will the revived dodo be identical to the original? We will never know.
In addition to the scientific challenge, the project raises serious ethical questions. Do experiments such as this channel money and attention away from efforts to save the world’s living endangered species? Why focus on certain charismatic animals over others? Moreover, where would these revived species live? How could they adapt to today’s environment? Who could teach a de-extinct dodo to live and behave like its long lost ancestors?
Questo articolo appartiene al numero May 2023 della rivista Speak Up.