Tuesday, June 11, 2013

De-Extinction: The Wrong Solution to the Problem

     In 2003, scientists set out to accomplish the unthinkable.  Using cloning techniques, they transferred fifty five bucardo embryos (an extinct sub-species of Spanish ibex, formally known as Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) to closely related species.  The bucardo lived in the Pyrenees Mountains for thousands of years before being hunted to extinction.  By 1999, a single bucardo, a female named Celia, remained.  After her death, Celia’s cells were preserved in labs until researchers removed the nuclei, injected them into “blank” goat eggs missing their own DNA, and finally implanted these eggs into hybrid mothers (Zimmer, 2013).  Of these fifty five embryos, only one was carried to term, only to die of respiratory problems ten minutes after birth.  This short-lived animal became the first animal to be born after its species had gone extinct (Folch, et al., 2009).
(Learn Genetics, 2013)

     Ten years later, the technology to accomplish this feat has become both cheaper and better.  Other extinct animals, such as the passenger pigeon and the wooly mammoth, have the possibility of a new future with the help of “de-extinction” tools (Zimmer, 2013).  In his TED talk about “de-extinction”, Stewart Brand (a leader in the field) highlights the growing international community of scientists dedicated to using advancing biotechnologies to revive animals such as the passenger pigeon or European Auroch (Brand, 2013).  However, is de-extinction really the solution?  Will bringing back extinct species really mitigate our impacts on biodiversity?
(Scienceray, 2011).  Woolly mammoths -- coming soon to a zoo near you?




     Brand speaks of a moral obligation to undo the damage that humanity has wrought, but de-extinction simply gives the extinct animals one more chance to be destroyed again without fixing the underlying factors that made them go extinct in the first place.  In his National Geographic article, Glen Albrecht of Murdoch University in Australia states that &