James Bradley’s novel Ghost Species is part of the genre of Australian speculative fiction. A main topic of his speculations is based on the de-extinction of extinct species such as the thylacines (also known as the Tasmanian tiger or wolf), woolly mammoths, and Neanderthals (cf. 20, 21). But would this be possible? Well, let’s find out!
But before we can think about whether it is possible in real life, let’s see how de-extinction works in the novel. Apparently, to ‘re-create’ (Bradley, 20) species you only need a sample of the genetic material, an egg, and a surrogate of a related species. The first successful example in the novel are thylacines. Thylacines are apparently a ‘good choice’ (Bradley, 16) as their genetic material is ‘relatively intact’ (Bradley, 16). Additionally, Dunnarts were used as surrogates and an artificial pouch to raise them as they were born undeveloped (cf. 17). The de-extinction of the neanderthal Eve was similar with a DNA sample and human surrogate (cf. 40f.).
So now that we established how the novel approaches de-extinction; let’s think about how it would work in real life. According to Nancy Huang resurrecting extinct species depends on the DNA. Nearly identical to the process in the novel, to resurrect an extinct species we need the nearly complete DNA of a species, an egg, and a surrogate of a related species (cf. Huang). To successfully clone an animal, one needs an intact nucleus which can be put into an egg that had its nucleus removed. The egg then has to be implanted into a surrogate of a closely related species (cf. Huang). And apparently this has been tried. According to Charles Q. Choi there has been an attempt to de-extinct an extinct species, but the clone died just minutes after birth. In 2003 frozen skin was used to clone a bucardo (also known as Pyrenean ibex) with domestic goat eggs and Spanish ibex or goat-ibex hybrids (cf. Choi). This attempt was unsuccessful as many of the implanted eggs did not result in successful pregnancies and the only to term carried bucardo only lived a few minutes. (cf. Choi).
This shows that de-extinction is possible but complicated as a close relative of a species is needed. And even if the pregnancy is a success, the survival of the baby is unknown as is whether they can reproduce. There are many other open questions that only time and technical innovations can answer. Until then, we have to speculate. But as shown here, speculation isn’t that far off!
Bradley, James. Ghost Species. Hodder Studio, 2020.
Choi, Charles Q. “First Extinct-Animal Clone Created” https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/news-bucardo-pyrenean-ibex-deextinction-cloning. Accessed 19 Dec 2022.
Huang, Nancy. “How Close Are We to Resurrecting Extinct Species?” https://now.northropgrumman.com/how-close-are-we-to-resurrecting-extinct-species/ Accessed 19 Dec 2022.