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A Real 'Jurassic Park'? The Frightening Science Behind De-Extinction

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Mar 17, 2013 | 9:52am EDT

Jurassic Park de-extinction controversy

If we've learned anything from the Jurassic Park movies, it's don't mess with Mother Nature. And if you think that reviving extinct creatures will be fun, it usually ends in overturned cars, dismemberment, and teeth — lots of big teeth. 

But now, scientists are getting close to making Jurassic Park a reality thanks to what's being called "de-extinction." And the whole thing has sparked a big debate: just because we can, should we? 

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On March 14, the nonprofit Revive & Restore showed off their de-extinction work at TEDxDeExtinction, an event hosted by the National Geographic Society. Among the long-gone animals the group wants to resurrect: the woolly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger. (No T-Rex and velociraptors, thank you very much.)

Researchers really started to get their hopes up in 2003 when the Pyrenean ibex, a type of goat that has been extinct since 2000, was brought back using a frozen tissue sample. The clone only survived a short seven minutes but got many a genetics nerd fired up about the possibilities.

The rapidly advancing technology has sparked several very important questions, too: namely, can Sam Neill be on our team and who's going to build that zoo? "Those of us who attempt to reintroduce zoo-bred species that have gone extinct in the wild have one question at the top of our list: Where do we put them?" says  Stuart Pimm of Duke University. "Hunters ate this wild goat to extinction. Reintroduce a resurrected ibex to the area where it belongs and it will become the most expensive [roast goat] ever eaten."

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Although there are plenty of extinct animals that are on the list, reviving dinosaurs in our lifetime would require a pretty big leap. Research published in late 2012 showed that DNA is only readable at a certain point, roughly about 1.5 million years ago. So 65-million-year-old dino DNA might be a lost cause — for now.

For more info, check out the latest National Geographic magazine featuring the topic and the one-hour special, "Mammoth: Back from the Dead," on the National Geographic Channel at 8 p.m. EST on April 12. 

National Geographic De-Extinction cover

[Photo Credits: Universal Studios, National Geographic]

Follow Michelle on Twitter at @HWMichelleLee.


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