The Ethical Use of De-extinction
Imagine if we had the power to resurrect extinct animals and species from the dead. We could have Wooly Mammoths, Saber Tooth Tigers, Saolas, Red Wolves, and many other previously extinct animals roaming the planet once again. It may seem like a wild concept, but with new technological discoveries, scientists have been able to create innovative techniques that propose the idea of de-extinction. De-extinction, also known as resurrection biology, has been the talk of the town with the ever-growing, upward trend of mass extinction. But what exactly is it? Well, it’s the process of bringing previously extinct species back to life through the process of selective breeding, genetics, and reproductive cloning technologies.
This would give essentially scientists the power to bring back extinct species that may benefit our planet. Although this concept may seem like one of the best options for reversing the catastrophic effects of climate change, the further we look into the use of de-extinction techniques, the more we question the principles, morals, and ethicality behind these processes. Is the use of de-extinction techniques really beneficial to our planet, or is it rather a harmful practice that is neither ethical nor practical?
Arguments Favoring De-extinction
Some argue that de-extinction would be very beneficial to our biodiversity and would create a positive change in our environment. The executive director of the Revive & Restore project at the Long Now Foundation, Ryan Phelan, shows his support for the idea of de-extinction. Phelan states that “As controversial as all of it [de-extinction] is...it’s going to help drive interest in [species loss], in a way that conservation by itself couldn’t do…The species that we are talking about bringing back, they really are part of the continuum of life.” Like Phelan, many others support the use of de-extinction for similar reasons. It is believed that by bringing back extinct species, humans could replenish our planet and help with factors such as climate change and the planet’s degrading biodiversity. The use of de-extinction techniques could help strengthen populations of animals that benefit our environment by restoring failing ecosystems, and overall make the world full of life again. Because of the possible benefits that de-extinction may provide, it has gained tons of support; yet at the same time, it is met with just as much criticism.
Arguments Opposing De-extinction
While some may argue that de-extinction can help bring back extinct species, others are concerned about the influence that these species may have on already existing animals. If we somehow manage to resurrect extinct species, we have no clue how they might affect the life of already existing animals or the impact they would have on our current ecosystem. The reintroduced species might need specific circumstances to survive in, meaning we would have to alter our land and crops or keep them contained in laboratory environments. By altering our environment, we run the risk of harming the habitats of existing species, causing further displacement of existing species. But keeping these species contained in laboratory environments is another ethical dilemma itself and all of this would all occur in a vicious cycle. Along with this, scientists aren’t sure that there is an ethical way to bring back extinct animals.
Take for example the case of the cloned sheep, Dolly, who lived from 1996-2003. Dolly only lived for six years, which is half the life expectancy for sheep. Along with her shorter life span, Dolly suffered complications like severe arthritis and heart problems. Even the conception of Dolly was a long and problematic process. Although Dolly is a sheep, a species that is not extinct, she was born from cloned material with the help of 13 surrogate mothers. This alone causes scientists to wonder how long, and fatal, the process would be for cloned genetic material to produce extinct animals whose surrogates would be from a completely different species. For example, Wooly Mammoths, since the Mammoth’s closest living relatives are the Asian Elephants the only suitable surrogate would be Asain Elephants. Even still, ethical concerns arise since an elephant’s gestational period, 22 months, removes the possibility of the elephant carrying an offspring of the extinct species. Because of this, it is hard to support the belief that using cloning techniques would be an ethical practice.
Is It Ethical? Is It Even Possible?
While many remain excited by the idea of de-extinction being used to return dead animals back, others rightfully question the ethicality of these ideas. It is hard to determine if de-extinction may ever take place, as no one is quite sure of the exact effects it would have on our planet. However, it’s safe to say that the use of de-extinction technology is one that needs to be closely monitored for the uncertain future as it may cause unnecessary conflict.
Want to Know What Animals Can Even Be Resurrected?
Fret not, Jurrasic Park won't be coming to life anytime soon, but check out this link to learn more about de-extinction and which species can even be brought back.