Credit: Kris Krüg
Thursday, April 16, 7:30 p.m.
The astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction makes possible bringing extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, back to life. Once seen as science fiction, the very real and compelling science behind de-extinction redefines conservation's future. Beth Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in "ancient DNA" research, vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used today to resurrect the past - from deciding which species should be restored, to sequencing their genomes, to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild.
Along with practical benefits, Shapiro explores de-extinctions ethical challenges, using her own research, including her travels to Siberian locales in search of ice age bones, as well as those of fellow experts such as Svante Paabo, George Church, and Craig Venter. Using DNA collected from remains as a genetic blueprint, scientists aim to engineer extinct traits--traits that evolved by natural selections over thousands of years--into living organisms. But rather than viewing de-extinction as a way to restore one particular species, Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. For example, elephants with genes modified to express mammoth traits could expand into the Arctic, re-establishing lost productivity to the tundra ecosystem.
Beth Shapiro is associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Nature and Science, and she was a 2009 recipient of a MacArthur Award.