New Effort: Bring Passenger Pigeon Back to Life
As Smithsonian honors 100th anniversary of the last one's death
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2014 10:07 AM CDT
This photo taken June 14, 2014 shows Martha, an extinct passenger pigeon who died in September 1914 at the Cincinnati zoo, at the Smithsonian's Natural history Museum in Washington.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(Newser) – The passenger pigeon was once so plentiful, a flock of billions darkened Ontario's skies for 14 hours in 1866; the birds were considered a "poor man's food," the AP reports, to the point that domestic workers tired of eating so many. But their numbers dwindled shockingly quickly, thanks in large part to hunting and deforestation, and in 1914, Martha—the last surviving passenger pigeon—died at age 29 at the Cincinnati Zoo. Now, 100 years later, some scientists are working to bring Martha back into the spotlight—while others are aiming to revive the entire species. Top geneticists working at the San Francisco nonprofit Revive & Restore plan to use the leftover DNA in stuffed pigeons, as well as edit the DNA of the closely-related band-tailed pigeon, to grow and breed new birds from embryo.

As the International Business Times explains, researchers at the group are studying passenger pigeon DNA from museum specimens with the aim of assembling the full genomic code. Then they'll compare the genome to that of the band-tailed pigeon, and ultimately "[convert] viable band-tailed DNA into viable passenger pigeon DNA," the group says. The lead researcher, who says the plan will cost millions and take at least 10 years, wants to teach the public that "it's so much easier to keep something alive than to bring it back to life," he says. But two other experts don't like the idea, though the AP doesn't go into detail as to why not. Meanwhile, other scientists have taken Martha out of the Smithsonian filing cabinet she's been in for 15 years, cleaned her up, and will use her as the star of an extinction exhibit opening Tuesday.

View 5 more images
More From Newser
My Take on This Story
To report an error on this story,
notify our editors.
Geneticists' Goal: 'De-Extinction' of Passenger Pigeon is...
Show results without voting
You Might Like
Showing 3 of 17 comments
Ezekiel 25:17
Jun 21, 2014 12:33 PM CDT
You know, I was poisoning pigeons in the park. Well, its a song from the long gone Dr. Demento years.
Jun 20, 2014 3:02 PM CDT
Passenger pigeons have a more interesting history that the story gives. First, they are not found a lot in the Indian mounds around villages as tossed food bones. The species filled a niche that those very Indians left...that of eating chestnuts and hickory nuts in the forests that Indians had established to feed their families. (Indian agriculture looks like gathering to Europeans, over fields and rows of crops.) Then passenger pigeon populations boomed to the story levels. THEN European settlers and their offspring started the harvesting of the tasty larger birds that eventually lead to their extinction.
Jun 20, 2014 2:52 PM CDT
Why? For god's sacks do we need another scavenger bird?