Should the woolly mammoth really be brought back from extinction?

Should the woolly mammoth really be brought back from extinction?

For de-extinction advocates, this is not a distraction from conservation; is conservation. Today, the DNA of more than 1,200 endangered species and subspecies has been archived in the frozen San Diego Zoo, one of many “biobanks” around the world.

Colossal co-founder Ben Lamm cites Najin, one of only two northern white rhinos left on Earth, who was pulled from an egg-freezing program last year because he’s too big. Any technology capable of reviving a woolly mammoth, thylacine or passenger pigeon could also help save these species.

Supporters also argue that it does not matter that a resurrected animal is not identical to its ancestor if it fills the same ecological niche. Novak’s research, for example, suggests that gigantic flocks of passenger pigeons played a critical role in clearing and thus rejuvenating forests, and that modern species still suffer from their absence.

He sees de-extinction as a continuation of existing conservation methods: We often breed endangered species in captivity to replenish wild populations, sometimes by crossing them with other subspecies or training them with survival skills.

Similarly, Pask argues that the ecological void left behind by the Tasmanian tiger when it went extinct 80 years ago has never been filled, not to mention the hole in Australia’s national culture (“When you go to Tasmania, every government sign has a Tazzie Tiger on it,” says Pask).

In theory, it’s not long enough that a recreated version could return to its former role, stabilizing local food chains as Australia’s sole marsupial apex predator. Its distant relative, the Tasmanian devil, for example, has become endangered due to a highly contagious facial cancer, which Pask believes could have been prevented or delayed if the thylacine had been to weed out diseased individuals .

“It’s hard to justify the extinction of many species, just because their niche doesn’t exist yet. But for the Tazzie tiger, the environment remains unchanged.

Ecosystem engineers

The ethics of recreating a mammoth is a bit more complicated. Ben Lamm and George Church of Colossal think they can identify which genes distinguish mammoths from modern elephants and then edit those traits, such as extra insulating fat and long hair, into the DNA of the Asian elephant, which they say is about 99.6% identical (compared to 98.6). percent for humans and chimpanzees).

The hybrid creatures could then be implanted into live Asian elephant surrogate mothers, or potentially grow inside an artificial womb; raised among elephants, the new mammoths would be reintroduced for the first time in the Pleistocene Park, a nature reserve in Siberia with the aim of recreating the Ice Age “mammoth steppe”.

Church argues that the original mammoths were “ecosystem engineers,” tramping through forests into grasslands that reflect light (and therefore heat) better than “dark tree bark.” Reviving this ecosystem would give rise to many other large animals that, together, would clear away the accumulated snow that prevents cold air from reaching the ground, thus slowing the melting of Arctic permafrost and the release of its long-trapped carbon. time

To do so, however, would be to manipulate the environment in an enormous way, so it has its critics. ‘I think the probability of [Colossal’s] The success rate is so low that wiping out private money is like, what’s the harm? says Victoria Herridge.

“But if I’m wrong, and they’re right, and making a transgenic Arctic elephant has the impact on the Arctic ecosystem and the impact on climate change that they say it will have, then that’s a change on a planetary level . and that shouldn’t be in the hands of a private company.’

Then there are the elephants themselves. They don’t take well to zoos (which Herridge calls “a facsimile of happiness”) and struggle to reproduce in captivity, with high mortality for mothers and babies. Their long gestation time of up to 22 months also creates a particularly severe metabolic burden on the mother. That’s before considering the additional risks of incubating a genetically modified hybrid species.

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