Scientists Futzing Around Think They Can Maybe Bring Back Extinct AnimalsS

Scientists in Australia are hopeful that they can bring back a strange species of frog that went extinct a quarter century ago. The Southern gastric brooding frogs, amphibians native to Queensland in eastern Australia, were best known for its strange parental habits (the mother would swallow the eggs after they hatched and regurgitate the completely developed offspring).

The gastric brooding frog might lack charm, but a successful attempt to resurrect the species could give hope to bringing back some more popular extinct animals—like the woolly mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, aurochs, passenger pigeons, or any of these cool extinct horses.

The only other extinct subspecies to be successfully brought to life was a goat-like creature called the Pyrenean ibex that lived for just minutes. The species had gone extinct only four years before it was brought back in 2003. Scientists used a cloning method; they implanted a surrogate mother of a very similar existing species with the frozen cells of the animal they were trying to create (kind of like the way Dolly was cloned).

However, some innovative DNA technology could lead to a new method of species recovery. Scientists could compare DNA of an extinct species to a closely related existing species, and then start to replace sections of the DNA of the existing animal with DNA of the extinct species. After a few rounds of this, the resulting creature could have enough of the extinct species' genetic material to start to resemble it.

Hank Greely, the director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University, noted that this method would most likely only be applicable to species that have gone extinct in the past 100,000 or 200,000 years, so adjust your expectations accordingly. And of course, bringing back these animals would require finding a perfectly intact frozen cell of the species, which might be difficult, so again—expectation management. But also woolly mammoths milling about! And dodo birds waddling wherever they please! Teeny-tiny horses!

[New York Times, image via Getty]