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Stewart Brand: Reviving Extinct Species — A Seminar Flashback

Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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In May 02013 Stewart Brand discussed De-extinction and one of Long Now’s latest projects Revive and Restore. Bringing back extinct species is a scientific pursuit that is loaded with both cultural and environmental significance. Revive and Restore is galvanizing discussion amongst the general public as well as the academic community around these efforts and funding research on bringing back the passenger pigeon and other species. Twice a month we highlight a Seminar About Long-term Thinking (SALT) from our archives.

Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is free for all to view. Reviving Extinct Species is a recent SALT talk, free for public viewing until late May 02014. SALT audio is free for everyone on our Seminar pages and via podcastLong Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD.

From Stewart Brand’s summary of this Seminar (in full here):

I concluded, “The fact is, humans have made a huge hole in nature over the last 10,000 years. But now we have the ability to repair some of the damage. We’ll do most of the repair by expanding and protecting wild areas and by expanding and protecting the populations of endangered species.

Some species that we killed off totally, we might consider bringing back to a world that misses them.

In the clip below Stewart describes Pleistocene Park a project in present day Siberia to re-establish the mammoth steppe ecosystem which was prevalent there over 100,000 years ago. They’ve been re-introducing once-native non-extinct species since 01988, but the big one is still missing. Stewart tells us they are ready for the mammoth:

Stewart Brand is a co-founder and President of the Board of Directors of The Long Now Foundation. He created and edited the Whole Earth Catalog (National Book Award), and co-founded the Hackers Conference and The WELL. His books includeThe Clock of the Long NowHow Buildings Learn; and The Media Lab. His most recent book Whole Earth Discipline, is published by Viking in the US and Atlantic in the UK.

In July 02014 Stewart and Revive and Restore will be in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts to discuss the potential de-extinction of the Heath Hen. They are looking for volunteers to help with those events.

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. The series is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast. Everyone can watch full video of the last 12 Long Now Seminars. That includes this Seminar video until late June 02014. Long Now members can watch the full ten years of Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits. You can join Long Now here.

Revive & Restore Sequences Extinct Passenger Pigeon DNA

Posted on Thursday, November 7th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Revive & Restore’s passenger pigeon expert, Ben Novak, has been working for months to gather samples of DNA from 77 specimens of the extinct bird.

Our first glimpses of data confirmed that the samples would be able to provide the DNA needed for a full genome sequence, but as we delved into the work, the specimens exceeded our expectations. Not only do we have one specimen of high enough quality for a full genome, we have more than 20 specimens to perform population biology research with bits of DNA from all over the genome.

Among those specimens, “Passenger Pigeon 1871” offers the most intact genome and was selected to be sequenced in full.

On Revive & Restore’s blog, Novak tells the story of taking the sample to a UCSF lab and running it through the Illumina HiSeq 2500. Soon, he explains, they’ll have a catalogue of the species’ entire genome, though in a form akin to a stack of unordered pages. He turns now to the work of sorting those fragments.

Scientists recover 700,000-year-old genome

Posted on Tuesday, August 13th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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There’s an upper limit to how long DNA can last due to the way it decays – dinosaurs, for instance, lived far too long ago for their DNA to still be readable – but scientists recently recovered and sequenced a genome 10 times older than the previous oldest.

The genetic material comes from a horse that lived 700,000 years ago:

Researchers have reconstructed an ancient genome that is 10 times as old as any retrieved so far, and they now say that DNA should be recoverable from animals that lived one million years ago. This would greatly extend biologists’ ability to understand the evolutionary past.

The genome was that of a horse that lived about 700,000 years ago in what is now the Yukon Territory in Canada, and its reconstruction has already led to new insights.

No species that lived more than about a million or so years ago could have left DNA that will still be recoverable, but this discovery potentially widens the window for de-extinction by quite a bit.

Arctic Revelations

Posted on Thursday, June 6th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Though the Arctic can seem like one of the most inhospitable regions of our planet, it provides unique opportunities to scientists seeking to understand life and its many manifestations. Recent examples of this in the news include the story of a frozen Mammoth carcass found to contain preserved blood and muscle tissue, and a report of plants called bryophytes found to be capable of growth even after 400 years of being frozen beneath a glacier.

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The Mammoth was found on an island in the Arctic Ocean and its blood reportedly “flowed out” when a part of the abdomen was broken off. As molecular biologist Beth Shapiro explained at TEDxDeExtinction, good ancient DNA is hard to find. This particularly well-preserved specimen could bolster efforts to get a really good sample of Mammoth DNA for the purposes of cloning and reviving this extinct species.

The bryophytes, it seems, revived themselves, in a manner of speaking. Since the “Little Ice Age” of the 16th century, they’ve been covered by a glacier in northern Canada. Bryophytes are a simple, primitive type of plant and individuals discovered where glaciers have retreated in the last few years were found to be growing again after something like 4 to 5 hundred years of frozen stasis.

Stewart Brand Seminar Primer

Posted on Tuesday, May 7th, 02013 by Andrew Warner
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Stewart Brand (left) with Ben Novak, the scientist working on reviving the passenger pigeon.

“Reviving Extinct Species”

Tuesday May 21st, 02013 at the SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco

From promoting the publication of NASA’s first satellite images of the whole Earth to co-founding The Long Now Foundation, Stewart Brand has always sought to simultaneously humble and empower. Our planet, seen for the first time against the vastness of space, suddenly seemed finite and precious. Our society’s moment placed within The Long Now – the history and future of civilization – becomes tenuous and ephemeral. But, given this expanded awareness and “access to tools,” the biosphere and society’s lasting legacy are ours to sustain and cultivate.

It is difficult to give a cursory list of the projects that Stewart Brand has instigated over the years. Some of his notable accomplishments include founding the “Whole Earth Catalog”, starting the Hackers Conference, co-founding the first online community (The WELL), and co-founding The Long Now Foundation. On top of all of this, he has found the time to write several books, including: The Clock of the Long Now, How Buildings Learn, The Media Lab, and Whole Earth Discipline.

In this talk, Stewart Brand will discuss his newest project, Revive & Restore, which is seeking to de-extinct species with the help of genetic technologies. Over the past two years, Brand has been busy convening meetings that brought together the leading scholars working on the science of de-exintction, which culminated in March’s TEDx DeExtinction conference. Through these conferences, Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan have mapped a set of questions to determine whether a species should be brought back from de-exinction. The common ground for the top candidate species are that humans were partially (if not largely) responsible for making them going extinct, and that these species were keystone species, or species that somehow played an integral and mutually beneficial role in the ecosystems they called home. In this sense, Revive and Restore is a natural complement to conservation movements that seek to rehabilitate ecosystems that have declined with the rise of the anthropocene.

One of the first direct de-extinction efforts of Revive & Restore (a project of The Long Now Foundation) is to bring back the passenger pigeon. This iconic bird numbered in the billions in the 19th century, only to have the last specimen die in captivity in 01914. Revive & Restore has hired Ben Novak, a self-proclaimed passenger pigeon fanatic, to sequence the genome of the passenger pigeon and its closing living relative, the band-tailed pigeon. With the help of a loose consortium of genetic scientists, Stewart hopes that the passenger pigeon will successfully be brought back and re-wilded in America, allowing it to revitalize the forest it once called home. Although the genetic technology behind Revive & Restore is moving quite fast, the process of re-wilding will take generations–one of the reasons that the project is under the auspices of The Long Now Foundation. For example – since Woolly Mammoths take about 20 years to reach sexual maturity, even after scientists clone an individual (which may itself take many years), it would still be hundreds of years before re-wilded herds roam the tundra.

Come join us at the new SFJAZZ Center on May 21st to learn about de-extinction from the front lines of this new science. You can reserve tickets, get directions, and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page. If you are a member, please check your email for special ticketing instructions.

Subscribe to the Seminars About Long-term Thinking podcast for more thought-provoking programs.

TEDxDeExtinction: A Primer

Posted on Wednesday, March 13th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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This Friday, March 15th, Long Now’s Revive & Restore project, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, are hosting TEDxDeExtinction, an independently organized TED event. To be held at National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, DC, the event will feature 25 talks about the emerging science of de-extinction.

Speakers include practitioners in the field of molecular biology who are developing new techniques to make de-extinction possible, conservation biologists and ecologists who can speak to the challenges of re-introducing extinct species into the wild, ethicists who wonder if we should even attempt such things, and artists who’ve depicted endangered and extinct species in paintings and photographs.

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Researchers around the world have been working to bring back extinct species, and, in fact, have done so on one occasion already. As this science matures, a robust public discussion can help guide de-extinction practitioners along a path that maximizes the benefits of these new capabilities while keeping ethical, social, and ecological concerns in mind. It can also help educate the public. One de-extinction scenario popular in the public imagination is that of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. In reality, DNA decays at a known half-life and is completely destroyed after 6.8 million years. Cloned dinosaurs, therefore, are not a realistic concern. But the development of this science in secrecy, as depicted in the film, is. With TEDxDeExtinction and other activities, Revive & Restore seeks to support awareness and public comprehension of de-extinction science and to encourage scientists in the field to work openly and collaboratively.

Stewart Brand discussed this emerging field and Revive & Restore at TED 02013:

National Geographic Society authors and researchers are also extensively exploring the implications, challenges and prospects for de-extinction on their website and in the April issue of the Magazine. Among the work is a cover story by author and former SALT speaker Carl Zimmer (previewed on his blog, The Loom), an argument against de-extinction by conservationist Stuart Pimm, and a slideshow of popular revival candidate species such as the Woolly Mammoth.

Reviving any extinct species will be a difficult and long-term project. It will require the consideration of many human, ecological and technological factors. At Pharyngula, Chris Clarke makes a strong case for reviving the Shasta Ground Sloth, a 400-pound cousin of today’s tree-dwelling variety. Through the example of arguing for a particular species, his essay surveys many of the issues de-extinction raises.

TEDxDeExtinction is divided into four sessions: Who, How, Why and Why Not, and Wild Again. It begins at 8:30am EDT on Friday March 15th and you can attend in person, stream it live on the web, find a viewing party to watch with, or wait until the videos are posted online afterwards. We hope you’ll participate in the discussion on Facebook and Twitter. And, for or updates on de-extinction science beyond this week’s TEDx, follow Revive & Restore on Facebook and Twitter.

Long Now Board Members at TED 02013

Posted on Friday, March 1st, 02013 by Andrew Warner
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This year’s TED conference has two of Long Now’s board members presenting, Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis. Although the videos will not be published on the TED site until later this year, some attendees graciously summarized and illustrated the talks for the rest of us. The cartoons below come from Fever Pitch, a group of artists that put information in illustrated form. You can find the rest of their TED illustrations on their Facebook page.

De-Extinction

Stewart’s talk introduces the concept of de-extinction to the TED community. First giving an overview of the technology and previous research, he goes on to explain how the newly launched Revive & Restore project is working on bringing back other extinct species, starting with the passenger pigeon. Revive & Restore will be hosting TEDxDeExtinction in Washington DC on March 15th to further explore this project.

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The Internet Needs a Plan B

Danny’s talk calls for the creation for a plan B in the case of internet failure. Michael Copeland from Wired also gives a good summary of the key points of the talk for those that were not physically present.

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Revive & Restore presents TEDxDeExtinction – March 15

Posted on Monday, February 25th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Where molecular and conservation biology meet, a new scientific field is emerging: De-extinction. Scientific and technological advances are making the prospect of reviving extinct species a realistic goal.

Revive & Restore is a project of The Long Now Foundation that seeks ecological enrichment through extinct species revival.

A private meeting last fall, jointly organized with the National Geographic Society, brought various practitioners in this burgeoning field together to discuss challenges, long-term goals, best practices, and ethics. As an outcome of that private meeting, the NGS offered to host a public forum to further explore the science of de-extinction and promote dialog on the ethical issues surrounding it.

Along with a brand new website designed and built by Benjamin Keating and Matthew Brown, Revive & Restore is unveiling plans for its first public forum to be held in partnership with the National Geographic Society on Friday March 15th:

tedxdeextinction-learnmoreTEDxDeExtinction

an independently organized TED event at Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, DC.

Featuring Carl Zimmer, George Church, Revive & Restore’s own Ben Novak and 22 other speakers, it will be a daylong extravaganza of de-extinction science, art and ethics.

On the TEDxDeExtinction website, you can learn more about the event, buy tickets to attend in person, or sign up to host a livestream viewing party. Keep up with announcements related to the event on Twitter and Facebook.

Prior to TEDxDeExtinction, on Wednesday 2/27/13, Revive & Restore (and Long Now) co-founder Stewart Brand will appear at TED to give a talk on the increasing feasibility of bringing back extinct species.

(This independent TEDx event is operated under license from TED.)

Report on the First De-Extinction Meeting and Other Revivalist News

Posted on Monday, January 7th, 02013 by Stewart Brand
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36 scientists, 25 presentations, 5,000 words to cover them all.  Lots of news.

Also the first announcement of the TEDx DeExtinction conference in Washington DC on March 15.

Introducing our now-full-time reviver of passenger pigeons, Ben Novak, with Martha, the world’s last passenger pigeon, in the backrooms of The Smithsonian.

Ben Novak is going to be working with Beth Shapiro’s group at UC Santa Cruz on world-class ancient DNA analysis, bearing down on the passenger pigeon and band-tailed pigeon (closest living relative) genomes. Additionally, Kim Vassershteyn is now a Long Now employee, often at the office, working on Revive and Restore matters, mostly the TEDx currently.  A listserv we set up for all the scientists at the October meeting is showing rich traffic.