Great Auk Back to the Future? Skip to content

Great Auk Back to the Future?

The great auk, pinguinus impennis, a flightless bird that went extinct in the mid-19th century, may be coming back to the future. Islands in the Atlantic Ocean were its breeding ground, Iceland among them. According to the Telegraph, geneticists now have a plan to revive the extinct bird. Their hope is to reintroduce it to the Farne islands off the north-east coast of England.

The bird was the same size as a medium penguin and lived mainly in the open ocean. Once ashore, it was vulnerable to hunters, who coveted its meat and feathers.

In 1844, the days of the great auk were finally numbered when the last two birds in the final colony by Eldey island, off Iceland, were killed.

Now, Revive & Restore, an American institute, is planning a genetic rescue of the bird. To do so, scientists plan to extract great auk DNA from fossils or organs that have been preserved and to use digital data to sequence the bird’s genome, or genetic code. The essential genes would then be edited into the cells of the razorbill, the great auk’s closest living relative. After that, fertilized embryos would most likely be implanted into a goose.

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