extinction Genetics Plants

Could we bring back extinct plants?

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Some think it a more useful idea than bringing back extinct animals:

True, an island of prehistoric ferns probably wouldn’t have the same cinematic appeal as a T. rex, but in theory, the ability to bring a plant back from nonexistence could be a boon to conservationists, a way to restore long-lost wild biodiversity or traits that helped ancient crops endure harsh conditions. More than 99 percent of all species that have ever existed are now extinct, there has to be some good stuff hidden in the genetic compost pile—what might we find if we start pawing through botanical history for forgotten foods or medicines? Now, gene-editing technology and advances in recovering DNA have opened up the possibilities for plucking treasures from the past, but there are already a few cases in which humans have brought back plant life, ages after it completely disappeared from the planet.

Jed Oelbaum, “Forget the Woolly Mammoth—Let’s Resurrect Some Extinct Plants” at GizModo
Ancient date seedlings from 2,000-year-old sites (paper)

So far a Siberian flower and a date palm have been brought back. The idea is that restoring n extinct animal like the woolly mammoth would just be a curiosity but some of these plants may be staple foods or useful medicines.

Paper. (open access)

Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon, author of The Long Ascent I and The Long Ascent II, notes, “My own, rather sci-fi view, is that doomsday seed banks need to be replaced with doomsday gene banks. Why not sequence all the various organisms and their protein machines and store the data digitally? Then it won’t expire with age and obsolescence. And perhaps one day we’ll know how to resurrect mix-and-match organisms tailored for future environments.”

2 Replies to “Could we bring back extinct plants?

  1. 1
    Fasteddious says:

    Question: would extinct plants resurrected by gene editing and DNA recovery be rejected by the non-GMO crowd?

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    I’d argue that the date palm wasn’t extinct at all. Seeds are living plants, just as larvae are living insects. Seeds are meant to carry the species through especially difficult times when adult plants can’t survive.

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