Should we bring back extinct species?
(Image)Bringing back a hominid raises the question, ‘Is it a person?’ If we bring back a mammoth or pigeon, there’s a very good existing ethical and legal framework for how to treat research animals. We don’t have very good ethical considerations of creating and keeping a person in a lab,” says co-author Jacob Sherkow.
Within 15 years, scientists may be able to revive some recently extinct species, like the dodo or the passenger pigeon. It’s not Jurassic Park, but is it a good idea?
In the April 5 issue of Science, Stanford University law Professor Hank Greely identifies the ethical landmines of this new concept of de-extinction.
“I view this piece as the first framing of the issues,” says Greely, director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences. “I don’t think it’s the end of the story, rather I think it’s the start of a discussion about how we should deal with de-extinction.”
Greely lays out potential benefits of de-extinction, from creating new scientific knowledge to restoring lost ecosystems. But the biggest benefit, Greely believes, is the “wonder” factor.
“It would certainly be cool to see a living saber-toothed cat,” Greely says. “‘Wonder’ may not seem like a substantive benefit, but a lot of science—such as the Mars rover—is done because of it.”
Greely became interested in the ethics of de-extinction in 1999 when one of his students wrote a paper on the implications of bringing back wooly mammoths.
“He didn’t have his science right—which wasn’t his fault because approaches on how to do this have changed in the last 13 years—but it made me realize this was a really interesting topic,” Greely says.
Scientists are currently working on three different approaches to restore lost plants and animals. In cloning, scientists use genetic material from the extinct species to create an exact modern copy. Selective breeding tries to give a closely related modern species the characteristics of its extinct relative.