Resurrecting extinct animals
"Your scientists are so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." This quote probably sounds familiar to Jurassic Park fans as it was the line that Jeff Goldblum delivered to a round table of enthusiastic scientists and businessmen. Many 1993 moviegoers would not think such a feat would ever be possible, but now that possibility is becoming a reality. Scientists have discovered how to extract viable DNA from extinct animals which have been preserved through various natural or unnatural methods to insert into a surrogate in order to resurrect previously extinct animals. Scientists are aware of the environmental implications of bringing back extinct species are disruption of symbiosis and the food chain, disruption of the current evolved environment and diseases, and quality of life for both cloned and naturally evolved animals. The DNA viability is limited to animals that have become extinct only within the past tens of thousands of years (Zimmer 44). This is a considerable amount of species considering an average of around one and ten-thousand species go extinct every year (World Wildlife Foundation).
Symbiosis refers the the process of mutually beneficial relationships between different species of plants and animals in a given ecosphere. This delicate balance would surely be interrupted by bringing back long extinct animal species. Currently, cloned animals are sterile when born. This means that the cloned animal is unable to breed with its own or closely-related species in any type of environment and despite current scientific advancements. Of course this was not the case when the animals naturally roamed the earth. Because animals in a symbiotic ecosphere rely on healthy offspring to contribute to the food chain and other symbiotic processes, the cloned animal would remain a disruption to established organic life. Climate change is another factor that could be further damage evolving ecospheres with symbiotic and de-extinct life. Scientist, Douglas J. Richmond and his colleagues for the Section for Evolutionary Genomics at the University of Denmark and Denmark Museum state that, "Little is known about how to equip a de‐extinct individual with a functional microbiome - bridging symbiotic capabilities with the needs of the practical world" (6). Currently, scientists are unaware of the methods needed to equip a de-extinct animal with the ability to integrate in a currently functional ecosystem. If a de-extinct animal cannot contribute or find its place within an established symbiotic ecosystem then that ecosystem would be largely disrupted and damaged. Furthermore, the reintroduction of previously extinct species poses a threat to spreading new diseases to established wildlife and perhaps transmission of diseases to humans (6). This would harm not only established and evolved life, but also the previously stagnated de-extinct species.With the current status of the world, it becomes hard to ignore the possibility of disease introduction and transference. It is hard to know what diseases plagued or lived within long extinct species and what their effect would be on the modern world.
Animal warfare is one of the greatest concerns for scientists as they test the possibility of bringing back previously extinct animals to integrate into the evolving natural world. Many people would not think much of bringing back an extinct frog or bird, but the implications of doing so are twofold. If the possibility of "life finding a way," as Goldblum also states in Jurassic Park, was scientifically supported then complete habitat destruction would be sure to follow. For instance, bringing back the passenger pigeon from extinction would undoubtedly lead to environmental changes on a large scale. According to many studies and research conducted by "National Geographic" and "Science Magazine," bringing the passenger pigeon back would lead to widespread forest destruction as well as an increase in forest fires. Some animals have no forest to go back to, as is the case with resurrecting the wooly mammoth and the Chinese river dolphin. These two species went extinct for different reasons-the wooly mammoth due to climate change and the Chinese dolphin due to human-created river pollution-and neither species would return to an environment in which they could live sustainably. This would cause both animals to live in captivity and unable to reproduce. This would take a physical and mental toll on both cloned species. Mammoths, like elephants, are social creatures capable of being highly intelligent. Therefore, as "The National Geographic's" scientific writer, Tom Mueller, states, "Cloning would give you a single animal, which would live all alone in a park, a zoo, or a lab-not in its native habitat, which no longer exists." Regarding the Chinese river dolphin, the natural environment that this species would return would remain unsuitable for living due to pollution and other "human pressures" (Zimmer 53). In addition to cloned species being sterile, many animals that are cloned either die shortly after birth or live with significant health complications that would cause the quality of life to be insufficient. The majority of pregnancies failed after being inserted into the surrogate while the few that were born were impaired with health problems.
Evidence supports the obvious fact that the quality of life for both cloned and naturally evolved organisms would be diminished if not entirely thrown out of balance. This became the main focus of scientific observations when scientists discovered that they can pluck the white rhino from the list of extinct animals and place it back onto the endangered species column. Scientists would still have to circumnavigate the reasoning behind its extinction (illegal poaching), but a slew ethical questions posed a bigger threat: What about other threatened species? Shouldn't focus be shifted to preventing their extinction before cloning becomes the only option? Steph Yin, a multimedia scientific journalist, interviewed professionals in the science field to gather summations pertaining to the toll that cloned extinct species (specifically the Northern White Rhino) would have on other living creatures. This includes the quality of life on the rhino itself: "Critics question whether the buzz around resurrecting a functionally extinct creature takes attention and resources away from other animals with greater chances of survival" (5). By becoming absorbed with the possibility of bringing back animals from extinction our attention is distracted from the fact that there are still millions of species still waiting to be "described, discovered, and protected" (Zimmer 52). The time spent discovering the best way to resurrect an extinct animal could be spent further researching currently living animals and what more humans can do to protect the volatility of wildlife. Focusing on bringing back extinct animals would detract from the animals that are currently endangered and need help today.
Perhaps science shouldn't bring back extinct life even if it can. While it is important to learn about evolution and why species go extinct, the consequences of disrupting this process would cause more harm than good. Resurrecting extinct animals interrupts symbiosis, diminishes quality of life for both cloned and natural animals, and the negatively affects the environment. Scientists and researchers are aware of this, but focus should be returned to the present and not the past. Animal and environmental issues need preventive rather than collateral attention.
"How Many Species Are We Losing?" WWF, World Wildlife Foundation
Jabr, Ferris. "Will Cloning Ever Save Endangered Animals?" Scientific American, Scientific American
Jurassic Park. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Universal Pictures Studio, 1993.
Mueller, Tom. "Recipe for a Resurrection: Should We Clone Extinct Animals?" National Geographic Magazine, vol. 215, no. 5, May 2009, p. 52+. National Geographic Virtual Library
Richmond, Douglas J., et al. "The Potential and Pitfalls of De‐Extinction." Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
Shultz, David, et al. "Should We Bring Extinct Species Back from the Dead?" Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Zimmer, Carl, and Robb Kendrick. "Reviving Species." National Geographic Magazine, vol. 223, no. 4, Apr. 2013, p. +. National Geographic Virtual Library