I am just learning of this possible application of gene editing. This project is claiming they want to try and create a hybrid between a modern day Asian elephant and introduce wolly mammoth DNA to create a hybrid, or resurrected, wolly mammoth. Their aim seems to be to help the permafrost environment and global climate as a whole.
Setting aside your personal view on climate change, what moral and ethical implications do you perceive if such an application is even possible? Scientists bringing back species from extinction? Would God approve of something like this?
It’s an interesting idea, as long as it doesn’t go all Jurassic Park on us or become a case where the “cure” is worse than the problem, but I’d be interested to see how it pans out. I’m not sure how anyone would be able to conclude either way whether God would “approve” any more than we would about most other science experiments.
There might be ethical issues with the matter of “recycling” old wooly mamouth DNA. I’m not sure.
I wonder about the ethics of blowing huge amounts of money on something like this, if it’s only for “gee whiz!” effects. If there is a purpose in sight that can help many people, then maybe it’s ok. If it’s because, well, who wouldn’t want to be able to see a living wooly mamouth, then we can continue to deal with the disappointment of extinction — maybe let that be motivating to us.
Sounds a little far-fetched. If you want to have a breeding population of mammoths to help the permafrost, you would have to engineer a bunch of them from different sources to get the genetic diversity needed. One may be possible. A little more difficult than introducing wolves to Yellowstone.
Apart from the dodgy ethics of genetic manipulation (super wheat etc)…
Are we claiming some sort of morality to resurrecting dead speicies, even if their demise was not of our making? If we could ressurect the Great Bustard does that somehow compensate for the fact that hunters killed it to extinction? Or is it no different from captive or controlled breeding to fulfill a need, as in Oyster farms or other food breeding projects?
Or are we just claiming that humanity has no right to manipulate Genetics? We manipulate Nature with ecological projects, or protective areas even captive breeding. At what point do we cross the perceived job of “Dominium over Nature”? At what point are our actions from guilt rather than beneficial? Does the continuation, or reinstating of a species actually matter in the practical side of things? Would, say, the loss of the Red Sqirrel affect the ecology of the Planet? Is the reintroduction of wolves into the UK beneficial to the ecosystem?
Methinks there is sentimentality (et al) involved here.
I don’t think there is any significant sense of morality in the creating some sort of hybridized “resurrected” animal. It seems more ethical than breeding species of dogs that seem to be suffering throughout their life. As far as if it’s possible, I have no idea.
Even though it seems ancient indigenous people played a role in driving them to extinction along with things climates naturally changing, far different from the respond though similar I guess to the way it seems white people helped rapidly lead to extinction of things like dodos and even the almost extinction of buffalo, all of these things far less problematic of the way we commercialized the breeding and killing of unhappy animals like cows and chickens and the speed up climate changing processes coupled with urbanization of wilderness. I don’t think these mammothish animals are going to change anything unless we collectively as a society, especially places like USA, India and China don’t really work on more environmentally sound processes to life and cities.
I also think that these things are not mutually exclusive. Focusing on either one should help protect the habitat they will share or need. From what I have seen it’s mostly this “mammoth” creation being focused on by scientists for Russia. If they do manage to sort of recreate these beings and have them roaming Russia then most likely the Russians will also be more active in protecting the habitat which will benefit the other animals and plants there as well. If it goes well there, other nations may be more likely to set apart larger regions of land in order to have these animals there as well. Unless of course, it just sparks smaller enclosures at zoos. But the Russians seem intent on having something to roam their vast wilderness.
Looks like the last ones went extinct just under 4,000 years ago on some of the arctic islands.
I don’t think there is enough time to breed these critters in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Like all megafauna mammoths breed very slowly. And they haven’t even cloned one yet.
I also question the decision of Sergey and Nikita Zimov of Pleistocene Park to reintroduce the particular 10 species (yak, moose, etc.). All but the horses are ruminants. Ruminants put methane into the atmosphere, making global warming even worse.
Different groups have been aiming at bringing back the mammoth since the late 1980s as I recall, without acquiring enough intact DNA to be able to manage it. Last time I heard anything about it, a group who claimed to have the DNA was involved in legal issues involving the use of an elephant on the one hand and determining which modern species was the best candidate. This doesn’t seem to be that group, though.
Then there was the Russian group that only wanted frozen mammoth carcasses to use the meat in a restaurant…
Considering that humans were a significant factor in the demise of the mammoth, I think humans bringing them back is great so long as there is a place for them to survive. We’ve gotten really really good at unintentionally wiping out species, at not even caring if we wipe out numerous species; if we can bring some back and fit them into today’s world, I consider it a good thing.
That’s been a concern ever since bringing back extinct species has been considered. One approach I recall reading about is to figure out what DNA is critical and what isn’t, and modify the less critical, but the trouble with that is how do you figure out what’s critical and what isn’t unless you have multiple sets of DNA to analyze? So it comes down to how many different individuals are needed to have a workable set.
Besides which when ruminants wander free the methane is not an issue because they actually enhance the uptake of carbon by the soil. It’s when they’re unnaturally concentrated in too small a range that there’s a problem.
The best candidates for de-extinction are probably recently extinct taxa with a decent number of well-preserved specimens and some close living relatives, like Carolina Parakeet. There are also some species where there’s nowhere to bring them back to, like the freshwater taxa wiped out by TVA or Georgia Power damming projects.
Genetic manipulation had always been viewed as some sort of devilment: “Playing God” as if we have no right to interfere with Nature… It would be nice if Ecclesiastes 3 were true and Nature soldiers on regardless but it clearly is not. How is genetic engineering any more or less immoral than trying to adjust weather formations or damming rivers?
Perhaps because we are less certain about the side effects, or think that meddling this deep in creation will somehow start a chain of events that we cannot control (eg Aids)
De-extinction may be seen as an extreme form of reintroducing lost populations to a site. The individuals to be reintroduced can come from surviving distinct populations, a breeding program or (potentially) from stored genetic material.
There is plenty of knowledge about reintroductions. One key point is to find out why the population went extinct. If you just throw individuals to a site that cannot sustain a population, you are wasting your time and resources.
The first thing to do is to remove the causes that drove the population to extinction. The easiest option would be if hunting caused the extinction because banning hunting might be enough. On the other end, if the population needs an environment and other species that have disappeared, succesfull reintroduction might be extremely expensive or even impossible.
Even if succesfull reintroduction would be possible, there is a need to think why should we do it?
Is it an attempt to undo previous sins of the humanity?
Is it an attempt to create an ecosystem that is more diverse and less susceptible to external threats?
Is it an attempt to establish an opportunity to hunt or otherwise utilize the reintroduced species?
Is it an attempt to introduce something ‘nice’ or ‘spectacular’ for the fun or curiosity of people?
I do not see that a reintroduction, or de-extinction, is bad, assuming that the resources needed for a reintroduction do not create misery elsewhere, or that the reintroduced species becomes a serious pest. What is more crucial to think is whether the de-extinction is a wise decision. Reintroducing mammoths would probably be unwise because there is not enough of suitable environment for a population of mammoths and creating just a few individuals for captivity would probably lead to suffering of the animals, which is unethical.