If you could revive one extinct species, what would you choose and why?

More than 99.9 percent of the species that have existed on Earth are extinct. As several groups attempt to resurrect birds and frogs we thought were gone for good, four scientists reveal the creatures they would bring back if they could.

Gwyneth Card

LAB HEAD
Janelia Farm Research Campus

It would be tempting to revive a species purely for scientific purposes, such as Archaeopteryx (did these pre-birds fly?) or an early hominid species (did Neanderthals speak?). But my inner five-year-old can’t resist choosing Tyrannosaurus rex. I spent hours as a child poring over dinosaur books, and now I study the neural basis of animal behavior—how could I pass up the chance to see this awe-inspiring prehistoric carnivore in action? Besides, I want to know if, as recent discoveries suggest, this fearsome predator was, in fact, covered in fluffy feathers.

Irving Epstein

HHMI PROFESSOR
Brandeis University

I’d go for the quagga (Equus quagga quagga), an African plains zebra that had stripes on only the front half of its body. It went extinct in the wild by 1878, and the last captive specimen died in an Amsterdam zoo in 1883. I offer three reasons:
1) I’ve always loved the name, and its plural, quaggas, makes a great seven-letter word for Scrabble.
2) The quagga was the first extinct animal to have its DNA analyzed. Scientists in South Africa are trying to recreate the quagga by selectively breeding present-day plains zebras.
3) I’m fascinated with what it takes to produce patterns of stripes or spots in living organisms. Scientists in Japan have done some clever experiments with zebrafish: They ablate portions of a pattern in an embryo and then watch how the pattern reconstitutes itself as the fish grows.

Sean Carroll

HHMI VICE PRESIDENT FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION

It would have to be a dinosaur. Instead of the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex, however, I would love to see one of the giant sauropods grazing on the landscape. Although not the largest, Diplodocus is one of the best known and would be an impressive sight at 10 tons and 100 feet or so, head to tail. Given time and room to roam, this long-necked creature would give rise to many more species. I think Michael Crichton might have already had this idea....

Fyodor Kondrashov

HHMI INTERNATIONAL EARLY CAREER SCIENTIST
Center for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, Spain

I would revive an ancestral species—something that’s a direct ancestor of present-day lineages. In evolution, many traits are lost and gained, and we have only been able to study this process by comparing related species, never an existing species and its direct ancestor. It would be especially enlightening to revive the organism—whatever it was—that gave rise to all eukaryotes, as its nature is one of the most interesting and least understood. Reviving this ancestor would allow us to learn important aspects of its biology and, crucially, give insights into the biology of all living eukaryotes.

Photos: Card: Matt Staley, Epstein: Robert E. Klein, Carroll: James Kegley, Kondrashov: Kevin Wolf

Scientist Profile

Janelia Group Leader
Janelia Farm Research Campus
Neuroscience
HHMI Professor
Brandeis University
Biophysics, Chemistry, Neuroscience
Vice President, Science Education
Genetics, Molecular Biology
International Early Career Scientist
Center for Genomic Regulation
Computational Biology, Genetics
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