De-extinction is a subject which has fascinated people for many years, and what was once the subject of science fiction and hypothetical debate is now a very real possibility and one which requires some serious discussion.
Scientists say that they now have the technology to begin the genetic reconstruction from DNA taken from the bodies of extinct animals. The concept is almost identical to that shown in the cult classic film Jurassic Park, but before fans get too excited, it’s worth pointing out that dinosaurs are out of the question as the DNA samples are simply too old.
The ethical implications of de-extinction are vast and varied, and they require further investigation before scientists should be allowed to begin bringing animals back from the dead.
Just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should. The outcome of the proposed de-extinction programs, provided they are ultimately successful, will have far reaching effects on the planet’s complex ecosystems and this is something which nobody is able to accurately predict.
What Would a Successful Program Involve?
For a successful de-extinction program to exist, we would have to decide what the objectives were and how we would propose to re-introduce the animals into the wild once they return to the land of the living.
When is an extinct animal no longer considered to be extinct? When is a mammoth a mammoth and not an elephant-mammoth thingy? If an elephant was used to birth a mammoth baby, when can we ever claim that it is a mammuthus primigenius in its own right? Technically only once the offspring of two successfully mated first generation elephant-mammoths were born.
If our ultimate aim is de-extinction of a species, and not just the resurrection of a single specimen or family, then a successful program would involve the complete reintroduction of a large number of animals into their ‘natural habitat’ — which raises yet more questions, such as what are their natural habitats in the modern world, what effect will this have on the complex ecosystems in existence today, and how will they cope with a different climate to the one in which they lived in previously?
Righting Human Wrongs
Many advocates of de-extinction programs are keen to explore the possibility of using our modern scientific capabilities to put right some of the wrongs which humans have inflicted on extinct animal species.
It’s the idea that we cannot change what has been done in the past, but we can use our scientific ingenuity to try and reintroduce these lost animals back to the world and effectively restore the balance of nature.
Are Resources Better Spent Saving Endangered Species?
While it may be a noble endeavour to try and reintroduce animal species which have been wiped off the planet due to human interference, many conservationists believe that given the current number of endangered species, we should be focusing all our energies, time and money on saving these animals before they are added to the growing list of extinct ones.
After all, surely it would make more sense to focus on prevention rather than trying to restore species which are already lost. The scientific community should be working alongside conservationists to find solutions to the pressing problems which living species are facing, otherwise we will end up heading down a slippery slope where our ego takes precedence over common sense and logic.
De-extinction may be well intentioned, but given the current state of environmental degradation and habitat destruction, the truth is that we need to stop the rot before we spend resources on a scientific vanity project which would hail us as masters of genetic reconstruction.
In the time it would take to see a successful project completed, hundreds if not thousands of species would have become extinct, rendering the biodiversity of the planet no better off. Our number one priority should be to save what we’ve got, before they are added to the list of extinct species and future scientists are debating how to bring them back to life.
Photo Credit: TylerIngram