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Biodiversity Blog


Biotechnologies for Conservation & Their Intended Consequences


The Stengl-Wyer Endowment is proud to share this public seminar with Ben Novak, Lead Scientist of Revive & Restore, hosted by Stengl-Wyer Fellow Erik Iverson.


Friday, December 9th, 10:00 am - 11:00 am, UT Campus, NHB 1.720


Revive & Restore is a nonprofit conservation organization leading the effort to responsibly integrate biotechnologies into conservation practice. Over the past decade, Revive & Restore has been driving the development of a suite of biotechnologies termed "the 21st Century Genetic Rescue Toolkit", including the use of genomics information and established technologies to enhance conservation strategies, cutting edge gene-editing research to create new opportunities for recovery of species including facilitated adaptation to disease and climate change, and even recreating ecologically functional equivalents to extinct species for habitat and biodiversity restoration. Many of the technologies and methods emerging for conservation spur controversy in both scientific and non-scientific publics. Most concerningly, there is a large degree of uncertainty among regulators and decision-makers that will likely impede effective deployment of biotechnology solutions that many species urgently need. Ultimately, the future of conservation biotechnologies rests upon a diversity of stakeholders that will dictate when and which technologies are used. Revive & Restore is spearheading "The Intended Consequences" initiative to promote a new paradigm that rebalances the risk-benefit equation when it comes to interventions to overcome the paralysis of the precautionary principle. The recent successful cloning of the first U.S. endangered species, the black-footed ferret, and its reception by conservationists, wildlife agency executive leadership, and the broader public signals a possible turning point for society's readiness to embrace biotechnologies. In this talk I'll share some of the technologies underlying the Genetic Rescue Toolkit, the early projects pioneering their applications, and the meaning of Intended Consequences for conservation and society.


Ben Novak was born in western North Dakota, near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was witnessing reintroduced bison, elk, and bighorn sheep herds in the park and a passion for biological science that inspired his dreams to recreate and restore extinct species. Since 2012 Ben has led Revive & Restore’s flagship de-extinction project, the Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback - the world’s first initiated effort to use modern biotechnology to recreate an extinct species.  Ben’s mission in leading the Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback is to set the standard for de-extinction protocols and considerations in the lab, field, as well as sociopolitical and cultural spheres. While passenger pigeons are Ben’s passion and specialty, the conceptualization and advocation of biotech-based genetic rescue solutions for all organisms have been a lifelong pursuit. In addition to the passenger pigeon project, he leads Revive & Restore’s conservation cloning efforts, which are the world's first genetic rescue cloning programs and produced the first clone of a U.S. endangered species, the black-footed ferret. He is also the program manager for the Biotechnology for Bird Conservation Program, which aims to rapidly diversify reproductive and gene-editing techniques for birds. He earned a bachelor's degree in Ecology and Evolution from Montana State University and a Masters of Arts in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California Santa Cruz.

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