Monday, February 02, 2009

Cloning exinct species

Extinct ibex is resurrected by cloning
photo: Telegraph.co.uk

The Telegraph is reporting that Spanish scientists have cloned a Pyrenean ibex, a species declared extinct in 2000.

The animal died only minutes after birth, but the successful cloning gives scientists hope of being able to bring back some species. Jurassic Park, anyone?

And just like this achievement reminds me of the mediocre monster movie, it reminds me of a quote from that movie, "you were so excited that you could, that you never thought about whether you should."

Scientists have mapped the genome of the woolly mammoth, which brings that species closer to "cloning resurrection." I'm not convinced this is a good thing. These animals died off as part of the cycle, and their extinction had little or no impact from human beings, and none whatsoever from modern humans. What would be the purpose of bringing one back? And would we clone just one, over and over? Or hundreds and have them breed to reignite the species? What would we do with the animals? Are they being reconstituted only to be kept in labs and zoos? Is that ethical?

The baby ibex was the result of genetic implantation into goat eggs to create 439 embryos, only 57 of which were implanted into female goats. Only seven of those goats became pregnant, and only one of those goats gave birth. To the kid that died seven minutes later. What surrogate parent(s) animals might be used to carry mammoth embryos? Elephants? Aren't they endangered?

Back to not-extinct-yet animals. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is embarking on cloning as an effort to keep rare African species (the Telegraph gives the white rhino as an example) from becoming extinct. I can see the rationale: human beings have caused the risk of extinction of these creatures, and if we have the ability to increase their numbers, we sort of owe it to them. At the same time, I'd argue that the circumstances under which these animals became endangered (shrinking habitats, hunting, importing of nonindigenous predators and diseases) should be addressed first. Otherwise we'll have no compelling reason to address them.

Which is not to even mention the "playing God" portion of our program. Which I won't mention. I think we've all heard the arguments on both sides of that.

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