Bringing species back

Ben Novak with two passenger pigeon specimens.

Ben Novak with two passenger pigeon specimens. (Image courtesy of Ben Novak)

The poor dodo has become synonymous with going extinct. It’s the poster-bird, if you will, of animals that no longer roam the earth. But what if we could bring the dodo back? What if that big-ol’, loveable, flightless bird could once again walk among us? And to be clear, we’re not talking about zombie dodos, although that would be a good movie. We’re talking about real-live dodos.

Turns out, help might be on the way for the dodo, or at least its long-lost cousin: the passenger pigeon. A group of people at Revive & Restore has been working on bringing back the passenger pigeon, and thanks to scientists and their experiments who came before them, we might just get to see these birds take flight. The key is in their DNA – the molecules that make up their genetic code. By using DNA from stuffed birds – the kind you might see in a museum – they hope to give flight to the passenger pigeon.

Our producer Marc Sanchez spoke with Ben Novak, who turned his early obsession with dinosaurs and conservation into a career in bioengineering. He’s part of a group of scientists who are on the case to bring back the passenger pigeon. And who knows, if they can perfect the process of de-extinction with the passenger pigeon, the dodo could be next.

Preserved skins of passenger pigeons in a specimen drawer at the Museum of Natural History in New York. (Photo courtesy of Ben Novak)

Preserved skins of passenger pigeons in a specimen drawer at the Museum of Natural History in New York.
(Photo courtesy of Ben Novak)