I’ve just been reading a few articles about de-extinction:
Bringing Extinct Species Back to Life – National Geographic
De-extinction critics at Scientific American have missed the point – The Guardian (Welz)
I am definitely a critic for a number of reasons, partly explained in previous posts:
1) Irreplaceability – recognising that we cannot re-create what has been lost, and this provides impetus to cherish the organisms that still do exist on the planet (rather than relying on technological fixes). At the same time, a cloned woolly mammoth introduced into a habitat now is not the same as the woolly mammoths that resulted from evolutionary processes.
2) Destruction of existing habitats and loss of organisms due to development, hunting, etc, etc – as the National Geographic article rightly highlights, where will these de-extinct animals go? If they are “re-introduced”, they may suffer the fate of the oryx and go extinct once again.
3) Environments and organismic relationships within those environments have changed since extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth roamed the earth – surely the re-introduction could be problematic for existing organisms, who have evolved without the presence of mammoths?
4) Cost and effort – while re-creating megafauna long since extinct could bring in revenue (through curiosity value, etc), the money and effort thrown into these projects takes focus away from the real problems at hand. We need to focus in the short-term on supporting endangered species, but in the long-term on changing how we relate to the natural world, and this is a massive task.
5) Being able to do something doesn’t mean we should do it (if that point is reached when it comes to de-extinction)! Scientists should not be driven by ego, dressed up as concern for conservation. De-extinction seems more about pushing boundaries for the sake of the scientists involved and bringing back charismatic species because they are “exciting”.
It would have been amazing to actually see a dodo or Javan tiger, but it’s purely selfish in my mind to try to bring creatures like this back to the earth through genetic manipulations in the first place (an amount of tinkering that is going too far) and even worse when other existing organisms, including the remaining primates, struggle to survive in diminishing and degraded habitats.
Scientific American articles on the subject: