The De-extinction Debate


How awesome would it be to see a real live woolly mammoth back from extinction?

How awesome would it be to see a real live woolly mammoth back from extinction? Due to new cloning methods, we may be well on our way to conquering extinction within your lifetime! It sounds cool, but there are lots of factors to keep in mind when deciding to resurrect certain animals. To find out more, I talked to John Demboski, Curator of Vertebrae Zoology and geneticist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He manages the DMNS's bird and mammal collection. Among those specimens are some extinct species, such as the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet. Demboski says that the DMNS has been approached by scientists needing DNA for their cloning and other research projects.


To bring a species back from extinction, scientists would take DNA samples from museum specimens, then construct the genome of that animal. It would be inserted in an egg of a close, living cousin of that animal. When that animal gave birth, the new animal would have the same DNA makeup of the original species. It may sound fairly simple, but besides the scientific part, many other problems arise. For example, where would we put the animal? Many animals became extinct in the first place due to their habitat being destroyed. This problem has only gotten worse as humans have made even more animals' habitats unlivable. Also, who would manage the species? How would we keep it from becoming extinct a second time? And what if the species carried a disease that we don't have a treatment for? (Now that whole "pet mammoth" thing is sounding a little less enticing!) Another fact is that we will only be able to clone animals that died out, at the longest, 10,000 years ago. So, thankfully, there will be no Jurassic Park-like incidents in your neighborhood or anywhere!


At some point, ethics come into this. Some think that bringing back extinct species is "playing God". But, others believe that we "played God" in the first place when we drove these poor creatures to extinction. Besides that, others think it might be better to use these cloning methods to help rare species avoid extinction or reintroduce species into places that they used to live. Cloning is very expensive and difficult. We all seem to agree that research money should be spent wisely. But that may be where the agreement ends. Demboski comments that scientists are going to clone animals anyway, no matter how expensive it is. But he also says that this may not happen for ten years or more.


Just remember, it was humans who caused these animals to die out in the first place. We may be able to somewhat redeem ourselves with cloning, but this doesn't mean we can keep going around, wiping out nearly 200 plant and animal species a day. If we work together, less species will die out and more will be resurrected. Then, and only then, could we say that we have conquered extinction.