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“We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision […] We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer.”
Oration on the Dignity of Man – Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

De-extinction: to revive a species

published on 19 12 2018

In Masjoan at Espinelves (Girona) there is a collection with more than 250 species of stuffed birds, gathered by the naturalist Marià Masferrer Rierola in the late nineteenth century. Among the various species there is the Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), a bird native to the United States, which was extinct in 1918 by hunting and deforestation. Would it be possible to de-extinct it? The program team explores what should be the steps to revive an extinct animal. First, the specialist in ancient DNA Carles Lalueza manages to sequencing its nuclear genome after almost two years of work. For the first time 95% of the genetic material of this animal has been recovered, a total of 1,100 million bases. The second step would be to identify what genetic differences exist between this extinct parakeet and its closest alive relative, the sun parakeet (Aratinga solstitialis). Then the changes should be introduced in cells of the alive parakeet through a revolutionary genetic editing technique called CRISPR and, finally, these cells should be cloned and introduced into the reproductive apparatus of an alive parakeet to form the eggs, lay them and feed the chicks. The current genetic manipulation techniques still have to progress before completing all these steps, but within a decade it will be possible. Maybe someday the same can be done with the mammoth or the tiger of Tasmania. But genetic engineering does not stop there, this is a scientific-technical revolution that can change the course of humanity.
The following people speak: David Masferrer; Antoni Ballester, veterinarian of equidae; Carles Lalueza-Fox, Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF); Jordi Grífols, Veterinary Zoo; Anna Pujol, Transgenic Animal Unit, CBATEG; Elena Ibáñez, Cell Biology Unit, UAB; and Josep Maria Ramió, parrot breeder.