Woolly mammoths are making a comeback. Should we eat them?

Woolly mammoths are making a comeback.  Should we eat them?

AAnd what furry beast, whose time has finally come, slinks into a laboratory to be born?

About 3,900 years ago, in mainland Siberia, the last known woolly mammoth took its last breath. Since then, humans have known mammoths only through their remains: scattered bones and a small number of frozen carcasses, with the tattered remnants of once-hairy skin. These remains have provoked our curiosity for centuries, a curiosity that could one day be satiated. Texas-based startup Colossal Biosciences is using genetic engineering in its quest to bring the species back.

“The woolly mammoth was the custodian of a healthier planet,” the company says. Using recovered mammoth DNA, Colossal will genetically edit Asian elephants, the species’ closest cousin. If his plans are successful, he will produce a woolly mammoth, or as close a replica as possible, within six years. This year, the company has raised $75 million from investors.

So, some 3,906 years after it thought it had seen our backs, the woolly mammoth could be reacquainting itself with humans, a species that has never seen a large mammal that didn’t like the idea of ​​food. Their extinction wasn’t just our fault (the end of the Ice Age massively reduced the size of their potential habitat), but as some paleontologists argue, prehistory is littered with bodies of megafauna that we’ve eaten to extinction Giant tame ones, giant armadillos, dire wolves…whoever showed up Planet Earth in those days they would have had to stay alert.

Given the apparent progress in the field of mammoth reconstitution, we might as well answer the obvious question: should we eat them? Colossal has made no mention of this prospect, focusing instead on the environmental benefits of mammoth restoration: the animal’s lumbering gait thickens permafrost, or the permanently frozen layer of soil, gravel and sand beneath the surface of the Earth, preventing it from melting and releasing greenhouse gases. . “If the mammoth steppe ecosystem could be revived,” the company argues, “it could help reverse rapid climate warming and, more urgently, protect Arctic permafrost, one of the world’s most important carbon sinks. greats of the world”.

Still, one wonders if people will be tempted to try it, just as their ancestors did. We will have to decide at some point if we too want to eat woolly mammoth, and indeed any other species we choose to resurrect. would you eat them

Holly Whitelaw, director of Regenerative Food and Agriculture, says it would. “I would eat anything that was holistically pastured,” Whitelaw says. Roaming animals, he says, are healthy for the soil; they distribute seeds and microbes as they roam. The healthier the Arctic soil, the more grasslands it supports and the more carbon it removes from the atmosphere. “It’s like bringing back the wolves,” says Whitelaw. “Get the whole system level working better again.”

It would be a great tragedy if we were to bring these majestic individuals into our time only to use and exploit them for our own benefit.

Victoria Herridge, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum and an expert on woolly mammoths, has urged caution. In carrying out this type of environmental project, said Dr Herridge The Telegraph“you are conducting a bioengineering experiment that, if your goal is [met], will create changes on a global scale. It becomes a question of: Who can manipulate the planet’s climate system?

talking with The Independent, Dr. Herridge expressed additional concerns about the provenance of these mammoths. “I have a problem with anything to do with surrogate mothers,” she says. Genetically modified mammoth amalgams will be gestated inside Asian elephants, at the risk of significant pain and medical risk.

These are objections to the project itself, rather than the idea of ​​eating mammoth meat at the end. Dr. Herridge considers this scenario unlikely, but poses a hypothetical scenario in which she would consider eating mammoth meat. “Fast forward 100 years. Imagine Siberia isn’t a swamp, there’s a place where woolly elephants go, they don’t go through the mosquito-infested swamp. Let’s say they’ve managed to breed 20,000 woolly elephants at this point. They’ve gone through Banff and they are wreaking havoc, and to maintain this population they had to make an annual sacrifice.Would I lower it? No, but there are so many warnings.

Whitelaw says the mammoth raised on pasture would have a good ratio of omega:3 to omega:6 fats, making it a good dietary choice. With that in mind, it’s easy to imagine Paleo enthusiasts delivering on consumer demand. Dr. Herridge, however, is again skeptical. “The idea that you can have a diet that goes back to this old way is really problematic,” he says. “There is this naïve idea that there is a lost Eden. Our view of it is based on nothing but illusions and stereotypes.”

Dinner tonight? Woolly mammoths in the 2016 film ‘Ice Age: Collision Course’


There are other ways to understand this question. Thinkers like Brian Tomasik, author of the blog Essays on the Reduction of Sufferingargue that if you’re going to eat animals, “it’s generally better to eat bigger ones to get more meat per horrible life and painful death. For example, a beef cow produces more than 100 times more meat per animal than a chicken, so switching from eating all chicken to all meat would reduce the number of farm animals killed by more than 99 percent.

Considering the question of eating woolly mammoths, Tomasik says, “A woolly mammoth would weigh about 10 times more than a beef cow, so eating mammoths instead of smaller animals would further reduce the number of animal deaths “.

We must also consider the way the mammoth died. “Whether killing by hunting would be better or worse than a natural death in the wild,” Tomasik says, “depends on how long it would take the mammoth to die after being shot and how painful the gunshot wound was. to the point of death. death.” Wild deer, he says, can take 30 to 60 minutes to die after being shot in the lungs or heart. Their brains are considered too small a target, although this might be different for mammoths.

There are many competing considerations here. While the rejuvenation of arctic grasslands would likely be good for the climate, it could also lead to higher numbers of wild animals. Tomasik sees this as bad news. “Almost all wild animals are invertebrates or small vertebrates that produce large numbers of young, most of which die painfully soon after birth.”

I think it will be a bit like the pig

The strongest opposition to the idea comes from Elisa Allen, PETA’s vice president of programs. Arguing that we should focus on protecting existing species whose habitats are rapidly disappearing, rather than resurrecting species whose habitats have already been lost, Allen says, “If anything distinguishes humans from rest of the animal kingdom, it’s the selfish desire to eat other members when we don’t have to.” Allen says that “the future of the meat industry is lab-grown or 3D-printed meat.”

Jacy Reese Anthis, co-founder of the Sentience Institute, believes that applying this technology to woolly mammoths is ethically preferable to hunting them. “One of humanity’s most pressing challenges for the 21st century is ending the unethical and unsustainable industry of factory farming,” he says. “Culturized meat is one of the most promising substitutes, so if mammoth meat is what gets people excited about it, then I’m excited. It would be extremely wasteful to raise and farm live mammoths when we could farm sustainably meat tissue in bioreactors”.

This would avoid what Anthi sees as the inherent wrongness of killing, for our own pleasure, a creature that can think and feel. He’s in favor of the technology, he says, but stresses that it’s important to “maintain boundaries of respect and bodily integrity for sentient beings. One of the most fruitful boundaries has been the right not to be owned and exploited for the benefit of other people .This applies to humans, but we are increasingly recognizing it for animals, and it is a crucial pillar for the responsible management of our fellow man.

“It would be a great tragedy if we reverted to our technological arm in the Pleistocene and raised these majestic individuals in our time only to use and exploit them for our own benefit.”

For our ancestors, who made buildings from mammoth bones, this issue would not have been even half the hair. But imagine a mammoth-based dish derived not from hunting but from a bioreactor. How could it taste? Whitelaw has a guess. “I think it’ll be a bit like pork. You’ll have to cook it long and slow to reduce the fat to make it. Or maybe you could make it nice and crispy.”

Watch out for this skin, though.

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