I recently read an article in Nat Geo regarding the “De-extinction” of animals which has had me thinking. The article talked about how scientists are now closer than ever to bringing extinct animals back to life. So close in fact that it has actually already been done.
In 2003 a group of Spanish & French scientists brought the extinct Pyrenean Ibex (a kind of mountain dwelling goat) back to life….for around ten minutes. Sadly the ibex, which was hunted to extinction by man and became officially extinct in 2000, was born with a defect of the lung and was unable to breath properly. A short lived success but a success non the less. Using modern scientific techniques which I struggle to get my head around let alone write about, scientist brought an extinct animal back from the dead.
In basic terms the scientists removed the DNA from the egg of a goat and replaced with live DNA from the last living Ibex before being implanted into a surrogate mother goat. Out of 57 implanted eggs only one carried full term and like I have mentioned above, that poor little kid never made it past 10 minutes.
De-extinction has long been a fantasy with films like Jurassic Park (where Dinosaurs are brought back to life using the DNA found in a mosquito entombed in amber) having scientists working round the clock to make it a reality. We saw the first cloned mammal in 1996 in the form of Dolly the sheep who was put to sleep almost a decade later due to progressive health issues. Although it is now possible to achieve it is clear there is much work still needed to be done to ensure a healthy animal is produced and ensuring suffering is not caused to either the baby or the surrogate mother.
There are many who believe it should be done and equally many who oppose it. Scientist have no intention of bringing dinosaurs back from extinction. They would love to revive the Mammoth which was hunted to extinction around 12,000 years ago and would most likely only look to revive animals who have become extinct within the last 10,000 years or so due to the natural rate of decay in DNA.
The opposition claim it is immoral and defies evolution. However scientists state they would only look at animals which have become extinct due to humans. If an animal has become extinct due to natural selection then it would be wrong and possibly even dangerous or risky to nature. However, if humans have hunted and killed an animal to extinction such as the Passenger Pigeon, the Imperial Woodpecker or even the Dodo then surely we are obliged to do something about it??
One argument from those who oppose is that if scientists are able to just bring back any animal from extinction then why would there be any need for hunting restrictions and conservation? It would open the floodgates for poachers and hunters so they say. Well that’s nonsense. The work, time and effort it would take to bring an entire population of a species back to reasonable numbers would be phenomenal. This isn’t the start of an Animal Factory. We couldn’t just mass produce animals when we run out.
Another argument is the morality of de-extinction and “playing god”. Those who believe in God claim that it is wrong, immoral and a sin for any person to “play god” and bring back a species from extinction. I couldn’t disagree more. To those who believe in God and believe de-extinction is a sin I have to ask, would it not be wrong and a sin to NOT use this amazing knowledge and ability God has given humans?
We have been “Playing God” for decades when it comes to medicine and the prolonging of human life and prevention of death although we are not yet at the stage of cloning human I dare say it will not be far away from being a real possibility. If humans have been blessed with this amazing knowledge and ability then why should it not be used? How do we know that this is not part of life’s big plan? If you believe in God then how do you know he/she does not WANT humans to assist with the animal world in this way?
The one argument I do fully support is the suffering caused to any of the animals in the process and so I would like to see more work done on reducing that risk.
In our ignorance humans have hunted animals to extinction. It continues to happen today. Animals such as the Siberian Tiger and the Western Lowland Gorilla are on the top ten endangered species list. Other animals at risk are the Mountain Gorilla and the Giant Panda and the population of the wolf is also in fast decline. Humans indiscriminately hunting animals results in their extinction and so I believe we have a duty, an obligation, to try and rectify the problem.
I fully respect people’s beliefs and reservations but I for one am interested and excited at the prospect of extinct animals being brought back into existence and endangered species having hope.
Who knows what the future will bring?