On Park Pedia, back in 2010, I made a blog post about my plan to create a dinosaur park on Cocos Island. That obviously didn't pan out. While recreating non-avian dinosaurs from ancient DNA will never happen, improvements in the field of ancient DNA and genome engineering (especially with the discovery of CRISPR) have given the possibility of recreating other extinct species. And of course, there is Jack Horner's chickenosaurus research and other evo-devo research that could be used to create birds with dinosaur traits (I will refer to these as dinosaur facsimiles).
I have a renewed idea for a park of extinct animals. I am not saying that this is feasible, or that it will definitely happen. This is merely an idea based on current science and emerging research.
This more realistic park would be located in Australia. It would feature dinosaur facsimiles and resurrected extinct animals. I have looked to the academic literature and the Sixth Extinction website for extinct species with suitable museum specimens or subfossils from which DNA can be found. From my research, I have chosen several extinct species which I think could yield enough DNA to assemble a reasonably complete genome which could then be compared with the genome of an extant relative. The genome of the close relative would then be edited in a cell culture. For mammals and amphibians, a nucleus from this cell culture would be put into a surrogate mother or egg. For birds and reptiles, a chimera would need to be created with some engineered primordial germ cells. The chimeras would then hatch, grow up, mate, and lay eggs that produce the new version of the extinct species (this method has an extra advantage as it doesn't require the surrogate be closely related).
Candidate extinct animals for the park must have either frozen specimens, dry tissue or bone specimens or subfossils from cold or temperate climates for which DNA can or potentially could be extracted. Candidates for dinosaur facsimiles must be based on theropods with a reasonably "generic" form not too derived from birds.
But I digress. Here are the species that I think would be suitable for the park, as well as info on specimens:
- Thylacine: Many specimens of this carnivorous marsupial exist worldwide, from skins to mounts to bones to wet specimens. These could all provide a source of DNA, and certainly enough to assemble genomes. However, the closest relatives of the thylacine split from it over 40 million years ago, meaning that unless a form of artificial gestation is invented for marsupials, it probably cannot be brought back.
- Jefferson's ground sloth: Remains of this ground sloth have been found in Alaska and the Yukon, suggesting a warmer phase during the Late Pleistocene. An artificial womb will be needed for this species.
- Round Island burrowing boa: The holotype specimen is in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Three specimens are found in the London Natural History Museum, and another at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. I do not know whether these are dry specimens or wet specimens. If they are formalin-fixed wet specimens, it is unlikely that DNA can be extracted from them.
- Rodrigues giant saddle-backed tortoise: A stuffed specimen exists in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, as well as subfossil bones in other parts of Europe. Mitochondrial DNA has been extracted from some of these remains.
- Gallotia goliath: Mitochondrial DNA has been extracted from mummified specimens of this lizard. It is unknown if nuclear DNA could also be extracted.
- Kawekaweau: Only known from one specimen, which could yield DNA. Even if there isn't enough DNA to assemble a genome, mitochondrial DNA could elucidate the true origins of the specimen.
- Culebra Island giant anole: Wikipedia mentions "a few" specimens in museums. UPDATE: This species has been ruled out based on the fact that the specimens were preserved by DNA-destroying methods.
- Rodrigues day gecko: Five specimens exist. Although they are all preserved in alcohol, the extraction of a partial nuclear gene from a specimen suggests that DNA may still be preserved.
- Macroscincus: This extinct skink is mostly, if not entirely, represented by specimens in alcohol, but mitochondrial DNA has been sequenced from them. Maybe nuclear DNA can be extracted as well.
- Cuban macaw: At least fifteen skins of this extinct parrot exist in the US and Europe.
- Huia: 119 skins of this bird exist in New Zealand museums alone.
- Carolina parakeet: 700 skins exist worldwide.
- Paradise parrot: I do not know how many specimens of this parrot exist, but they do exist.
- Heath hen: A de-extinction project for this species already exists: http://longnow.org/revive/projects/heath-hen-project/
- New Zealand geese: Believed to have gone extinct around the 1500s, multiple subfossil specimens known.
- Markham's/Aurora frog: These two New Zealand frogs have been found as subfossils in New Zealand caves. DNA may be retrievable as New Zealand is a temperate environment, and caves are often cooler than the outside. These frogs also became extinct sometime in the past couple of thousand years, and DNA has been extracted from moa bones the same age and older.
- Gastric-brooding frog: One frozen specimen of the Southern gastric-brooding frog exists in the Australian Museum. Frozen specimens typically yield a lot of DNA, albeit in small fragments.
- Chickenosaurus: A modified chicken with a tail, hands and teeth.
- Urvogel: A modified perching bird (probably a large crow or raven) with a tail, clawed wings, teeth, carnivorous diet and black feathers.
- Ratitosaurus: A modified emu with a tail, hands and teeth.
- Raptor: A modified chickenosaurus with a larger size and a sickle claw.
- Dynamosaurus: A modified chickenosaurus, designed to be much larger, with two clawed fingers instead of three, and more tyrannosaur-like skull features and cervical ribs.
The extinct reptiles would be housed in a large reptile house, while the extinct birds and urvogel would be housed in an aviary. The dinosaur facsimiles would be housed in enclosures. I may add more species to the list, depends on what I think might be possible in my lifetime (the average New Zealand lifespan in 1999 was 77 years, so I'm assuming that I'll die in 2076).
Expect this blog post to be edited in the future.