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Should We Bring Back Extinct Animals?

As You Read, Think About: How might bringing back extinct creatures help other animals? 

Woolly mammoths were huge, hairy elephant-like creatures. Most mammoths became extinct nearly 10,000 years ago. But what if they came back from the dead? It may sound like a scene from a zombie movie, but it could soon be a reality. A company called Colossal plans to bring woolly mammoths back from extinction within the next few years. 

Colossal will use a process called de-extinction. They’ll take DNA from a frozen mammoth. DNA is the material in cells that determines how living things look and function. Scientists will copy the DNA into the cells of the mammoth’s closest living relative, the Asian elephant. 

Some people think it would be exciting to see prehistoric creatures roam the planet again. But many scientists are concerned that de-extinction could cause more harm than good. 

Woolly mammoths were huge, elephant-like creatures. Most mammoths became extinct nearly 10,000 years ago. But what if they came back? It may sound like a scene from a zombie movie. But it could soon be a reality. A company called Colossal plans to bring woolly mammoths back from extinction within the next few years.

Colossal will use a process called de-extinction. They’ll take DNA from a frozen mammoth. DNA is the material in cells that determines how living things look and function. Scientists will copy the DNA into the cells of the Asian elephant. That's the mammoth’s closest living relative.

Some people think it would be exciting to see prehistoric creatures roam the planet again. But many scientists worry that de-extinction could cause more harm than good.

Should we bring extinct creatures back from the dead? 

Many experts believe bringing back mammoths would be one of the greatest conservation victories of all time. Mammoths were a keystone species in the Arctic, meaning they had a major impact on their ecosystem. The Colossal team says reintroducing mammoths could greatly boost biodiversity. 

Colossal also aims to prevent climate change. Mammoths scraped away snow, allowing air to reach the frozen soil beneath, called permafrost. Without the beasts, snow blanketed the permafrost, which warmed. That released greenhouse gases and warmed the Arctic. Some scientists say bringing back mammoths can reverse that. 

Supporters of de-extinction say the process could also save endangered species. They argue that the technology could be used to change the DNA of other animals to make them stronger and better able to fight diseases. Eriona Hysolli is the head biologist at Colossal. She believes her team’s efforts could protect animals in danger of disappearing. 

“We have to think outside the box,” Hysolli says. “We need new ideas before we lose a species for good.” 

Many experts believe bringing back mammoths would be a conservation victory. Mammoths were a keystone species in the Arctic. That means they had a big impact on their ecosystem. The Colossal team says bringing mammoths back could boost biodiversity.

Colossal also aims to prevent climate change. Mammoths used to scrape away snow. That allowed air to reach the frozen soil beneath, called permafrost. Without mammoths, snow covered the permafrost, which warmed. That released greenhouse gases and warmed the Arctic. Some scientists say bringing back mammoths can reverse that.

Supporters of de-extinction say it could also save endangered species. They argue that the technology could be used to change the DNA of other animals to make them stronger and better able to fight diseases. Eriona Hysolli is the head biologist at Colossal. She believes her team’s efforts could protect animals in danger of disappearing.

“We have to think outside the box,” Hysolli says. “We need new ideas before we lose a species for good.”

Mammoths were better preserved than many other animals because their bodies were frozen in ice and snow for centuries.

Raghupathi K.V./500px/Getty Images

Scientists point out that the new creature won't actually be a woolly mammoth—it will be a mix of mammoth and elephant. Some say creating a hybrid like this is a cruel experiment. Many worry the new animals could suffer from serious health problems and will be subject to constant testing. They fear the new species might not survive. 

Other experts believe de-extinction could harm the environment, not help it. They say placing a new version of an extinct species into an ecosystem could hurt other animals. Many scientists also say bringing back a version of the mammoth is not likely to affect climate change. 

“They’d have to bring back millions of woolly mammoths, and it would take centuries for any positive changes to occur,” says Ross MacPhee. He is a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “The other thing is, where are you going to put them? You’re not talking about rats. You’re talking about animals that weigh 4 or 5 tons.” 

Opponents of de-extinction point out that the process can cost tens of millions of dollars. They argue that the money would be better spent on trying to save currently endangered species before they become extinct. 

Scientists point out that the new creature won’t actually be a woolly mammoth. It will be a mix of mammoth and elephant. Some say creating a hybrid like this is a cruel experiment. Many worry the new animals could suffer from serious health problems and will be subject to constant testing. They fear the new species might not survive.

Other experts believe de-extinction could harm the environment, not help it. They say placing a new version of an extinct species into an ecosystem could hurt other animals. Many scientists also say bringing back a version of the mammoth is not likely to affect climate change. 

“They’d have to bring back millions of woolly mammoths, and it would take centuries for any positive changes to occur,” says Ross MacPhee. He is a biologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “The other thing is, where are you going to put them? You’re not talking about rats. You’re talking about animals that weigh 4 or 5 tons.”

Opponents of de-extinction point out that the process can cost tens of millions of dollars. They argue that the money should be spent on trying to save currently endangered species before they become extinct.

More than 500 species of land animals are in danger of becoming extinct in the next 20 years.

Source: National Academy of Sciences

Source: National Academy of Sciences

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  1. What steps are involved in the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth, according to the article? 
  2. What does Eriona Hysolli of Colossal mean when she says “We have to think outside the box”? 
  3. Why do opponents of de-extinction say it would be cruel to the new animals? 
  1. What steps are involved in the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth, according to the article? 
  2. What does Eriona Hysolli of Colossal mean when she says “We have to think outside the box”? 
  3. Why do opponents of de-extinction say it would be cruel to the new animals? 
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