Sunday, January 16, 2011

Could We Resurrect the Wooly Mammoth? And Should We?

A Japanese scientist claims that he is as little as four years away from successfully cloning a wooly mammoth. Using technology that has cloned frozen mice, he believes he can bring back this extinct species.


This is all very interesting. Is this ethical? The wooly mammoth was probably hunted to extinction in the relatively recent past. So is this something we should do? More broadly, should we try to freeze carcasses of any number of endangered species to keep them alive if they go extinct?

This isn't just an obscure theoretical question anymore. Given the relative independence of scientists, it is entirely possible that such a thing could happen. Then it becomes a policy question. I think there would be an awful lot of sentiment not to kill them. So then what. What nations take custody of them? Are they released in a place they wouldn't necessarily instantly be hunted out, say northern Canada? What does this mean for cloning other extinct species? We already manage (whether we want to or not) all of the world's animals. Humans choose whether these species will live or die. So is it that much of a jump to start choosing to bring back extinct species like the mammoth?

It's all quite fascinating. I'm not sure how I feel about it.