Once the dominant species in eastern North America, passenger pigeons roamed the forests in giant flocks up to several billions of individuals for tens of thousands of years before their numbers were snuffed out.
That’s why [researcher Ben] Novak, working with a Californian Institute called Revive & Restore, is aiming to bring back the species and re-introduce it into its natural habitat—with the help of common pigeons and the power of CRISPR.
Novak is among a small group of “de-extinction” engineers, a relatively fringe group of scientists that hope to use genetic engineering to protect or revive iconic animal species ravaged by human activity.
Rather, the team is taking a find-and-replace approach: starting from your average scavenger pigeon on city streets, they plan to incorporate genes specific to passenger pigeons into modern-day cousins—the band-tail pigeon. By selectively breeding the gene-animals, the team hopes to concentrate the newly-incorporated genes in offspring, thus nudging these “living surrogates” toward passenger pigeons on a genetic level.
With enough generations, we may have a curious, man-made species with DNA indistinguishable from the dead animals they are modeled after.
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