A non-profit organization is now seeking to resurrect the passenger pigeon from extinction. Passenger pigeons were once among the most common type of birds and they were a common sight in North America before they were driven to extinction in the early 1900s.
While the project is currently one of the most ambitious genetic experiments to date, its success may be of vital importance to hundreds of other extinct animals. Before they became extinct in 1914, passenger pigeon populations numbered in the billion. However, overhunting, the destruction of their natural habitat and the expansion of human settlements made the eradication of the entire species possible.
"This is the first project to revive an extinct animal using its museum-specimen DNA," says the Revive & Restore project. Once it succeeds, the techniques will be applicable to hundreds of other extinct species.
Scientists are currently eyeing the passenger pigeon as an ideal candidate for revival. However, there is a wealth of both genetic and observational data about the passenger pigeon. While there are other more ideal candidates such as certain species of extinct mice, experts say that the successful revival of the passenger pigeon may unlock a wealth of knowledge that could be applied to a wider variety of other extinct species such as reptiles and other birds.
"The passenger pigeon is a compelling choice for de-extinction," says Revive & Restore. "Humans hunted them to extinction from a population of billions until 1914 when none remained."
Over the years, various institutions and laboratories have safeguarded viable genetic samples of passenger pigeons that can be used to facilitate the ambitious project. Unlike species that went extinct before meticulous observations could be gathered and stored for future generations, there is a veritable treasure trove of data regarding the passenger pigeon. From its natural habitat to its feeding behavior, scientists will be able to construct a practical roadmap in order to bring the species back from the dead so to speak.
"This allows us to plan its future in a knowledgeable and responsible manner and also offers an ideal opportunity to learn about extinction," Revive & Restore says. "This knowledge will be essential to understanding and helping other species that are critically endangered."
In order to bring the project's goals to fruition, high quality genetic samples will be needed. Moreover, there is also a need for a large variety of samples in order to ensure that the resurrected species will have enough genetic diversity to survive and thrive. Currently, the team behind the project has already isolated and sequenced 12 distinct passenger pigeon genomes.