Terry DeMio Cincinnati Enquirer
Published 11:31 AM EDT Aug 30, 2019
The story of Martha the passenger pigeon elicits both nostalgia and remorse for Cincinnati, the city that protected this bird, the last of her species, in a place where conservation is key.
We toast her in a massive showpiece of a mural on East Eighth Street facing Vine. Renowned wildlife artist Charley Harper has immortalized her kind in a seriagraph. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, which kept Martha comfortable in her last years, hosts a statue in her honor. Children throughout the region are taught about extinction through books about Martha. And parents and grandparents who know about the rise and fall of passenger pigeons tell their little ones about Martha.
But now, these wistful tales are evolving.
More Marthas may be on the way.
Credit a new field of science called de-extinction biology.
A group of scientists in Sausalito, California, are working on bringing back the passenger pigeon as part of a larger effort to enhance biodiversity through new techniques of genetic rescue of both endangered and extinct animals.
"It's been really amazing," said Ben Novak, lead scientist at Revive & Restore, which is working on the revival of a very similar bird to the passenger pigeon, with the hope of reintroducing it to the forests of eastern North America.
Lest anyone fear that Jurassic Park-like monster passenger pigeons will one day inhabit the earth, no worries.
The de-extinction efforts underway don't really re-create the bird's entire DNA. Instead, scientists start by decoding DNA from extinct passenger pigeons and, through bio-technology, change the DNA code of living band-tailed pigeons to match the passenger pigeon's code. By changing enough of the code, and through tried-and-true conservation practices, scientists hope the new birds look and behave the same way that their historic counterparts did.