Can the red-breasted American passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), hunted to extinction a century ago, be revived from museum specimens? Geneticist George Church of Harvard University and his colleagues say yes — by transferring key genes into a living relative.

Infographic by Jason Treat, NGM Staff. Art by Raul Martin.
  • Idea for Use in Classroom

    Introduce the infographic by having students read the title and overview. Ask: What does species revival mean, in relation to this infographic? Next, have students read through each step in the process. Using the infographic, work as a class to create a Tweet describing each step in layman’s terms. Utilize the infographic and Tweets to deduce the key requirements for bringing back a species (a close living relative and DNA from the extinct species).

    Nominees for Resurrection

    Organize students into small research teams. Each team should select and research a different extinct animal to nominate for resurrection. Nominees should have a living relative and available DNA.

    Each group should provide the following information for their nominee:

    1. Name of the species to go through resurrection
    2. Cause of extinction
    3. Name of the living, related species
    4. Characteristics that distinguish the extinct organism from the living relative
    5. Challenges that might be faced in bringing back the extinct species

    Have students share their nominees with the class.

    Ethical Considerations

    Before voting, debate the merits of species resurrection. Students should evaluate the positive and negative consequences of species resurrection on the environment and other species, and consider what unintended consequences may result. Students may also consider the economic and ethical implications of species revival. To extend the debate, prompt students to consider how the cause of extinction influences their position (e.g., extinction caused by a natural disaster versus anthropogenic climate change). Finally, have students vote on which species to bring back, if any.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    biodiversity Noun

    all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: biodiversity
    DNA Noun

    (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule in every living organism that contains specific genetic information on that organism.

    extinct Adjective

    no longer existing.

    fertilize Verb

    to make productive or fertile.

    genetic Adjective

    having to do with genes, inherited characteristics or heredity.

    organism Noun

    living or once-living thing.

    resurrect Verb

    to bring back to life.