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Is Resurrection Biology Both An Ethical And Sustainable Concept?

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Due to the rapid rate that animals these days are becoming extinct, many have turned to what they believe to be the answer, resurrection biology. ‘De-extinction, also called resurrection biology, the process of resurrecting species that have died out, or gone extinct.’ (Rogers, 2014) this quote defines what resurrection biology is. There are three ways that de-extinction can occur; Genome editing, selective breeding and cloning, this being the main researched method. Cloning ‘generally applies to a process more technically known as somatic cell nuclear transfer’(Thompson, 2012), this explains to process of where DNA is taken from a “donor” animal, and is implanted into an egg of the same species, the egg cell previously has its nucleus removed, this is so none of the egg donors DNA is still present in the egg. Electricity is then pumped into the embryo, this causing the cells to multiply causing it to become a blastocyst, which to finish off the process is then planted into the surrogate mother.

The animal which is then born will hold the exact DNA as the cells of the “donor” animal the process began with. (Thompson, 2012) Genome editing is the process where scientists are able to manipulate the DNA, this will then enable them to obtain desired features for the animal the DNA belongs too (National Human Genome Research Institute). Selective breeding is similar to Genome editing, but instead of manipulating the DNA to obtain the desired feature, they breed two animals who both have that feature to make sure then that the offspring will have it as well, this is done so that the likelihood that more of that species having that trait will increase as more of the adults that will be breeding with be carriers. The Oxford dictionary defines the term ethical as ‘relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these.’ When holding the possibility of life and death in your hand’s ethics must be considered because they serve as a moral compass. Sustainability is expressed as ‘the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level’ by the Oxford dictionary. Due to sustainability a problem faced by to idea of de-extinction is the fact that once the animals are brought back, they will adapt to the environment in which they are present in rather than the one in which they died out in. This will result in a change in the animal’s genetics meaning that we would in fact not be studying the original species, which for many was the main reason their backing of de-extinction. Many scientists have argued that the knowledge that we can obtain from bringing these animals back it too valuable to bypass. Whereas others have argued that the consequences are too high for both humans and the species being revived.

In 2003, the world experienced the cloning of an animal which had previously been extinct- however the clone passed away minutes after birth. The clone was of a bucardo, ‘or Pyrenean ibex, a subspecies of Spanish ibex’ (Choi, 2009) the quote explaining the type of species that was momentarily brought back only to become extinct once again. The Bucardo had been categorized as extinct in the year 2000, after the last of its species was killed by a strike from a falling branch. The experiment took place in Spain, and even though the outcome was not one which was wanted by the scientists responsible, they were not disheartened and looked to the future encouraged by their semi-successive experiment. The studies co-author Jose Folch, of the Center for Agro-Nutrition Research and Technology in Aragon, Spain, reports 'We will try to improve the technology in order to increase the efficiency of the cloning process.' Due to this experiment the idea of resurrection biology became more of a reality that an idea, this experiment, even though it was classed as failed due to the death of the clone, provided proof for the possibility of bringing back animals from the dead.

Ethics play a huge role in this topic, this being because it is one of the biggest argued issues against the process of de-extinction. The idea of de-extinction was a fantasy for many years, after the release of Jurassic park in 1993, the idea circulated more but still for 20 years remained just an idea of science fiction. However, due to recent experiments, and successes in cloning the idea is becoming more of a reality. ‘Scientists predict that within 15 years they will be able to revive some more recently extinct species’ (Sumner and Carey, 2013). Owing to this concept becoming more of a possibility, it has raised the question of just because we can do it, does that justify why we should do it? This being where the ethical reasoning behind the idea plays a role. The idea that the creation of the animal not being natural is a recurring argument against the idea of resurrection biology, this argument is based on the grounds that there must be a lot of human intervention to make the knowledge a possibility, in his paper on ‘The Ethics of Reviving Long Extinct Species’, author Ronald Sandler identifies that ‘engineered organisms do not have as much natural value as do organisms whose origins are independent from humans’, this constructing the argument that anything humans have to ‘create’ cannot be considered as natural and so then pose ethical issues, of both the process of how the animals are created and also how they must be able to adapt and live in this time rather than the one they left.

However, Sandler goes on to argue that just because it came ‘to exist with human intervention or is low in natural value does not make it ethically problematic’ as he argues that then this would mean more mundane substances such as ‘low-fat yogurt would be ethically problematic.’ This idea that Sandler presents, of not being unnatural because the creation of it involved human intervention, is very important as it means that in fact the ethical problems don’t lie with the fact that these creature are going to be ‘created’ by human, it lies with the actual process of the said ‘creation’. Also, Sandler discusses how animal welfare concerns are another concern for ethics, this is a big factor as the wellbeing of an animal must be a main priority when discussing de-extinction, this is because the world has changed dramatically since that animal was last on it so it is nowhere adapted to this new, strange environment it has been brought back into.

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Also, we lack knowledge of the animal, this is a result of, in some cases of the animals there have been talks of bring back like the Woolly Mammoth, we don’t know enough about and so cannot plan thoroughly enough for its arrival. ‘cloning has low success rates and often results in donors, surrogates, and offspring with health problems and abnormalities’ Sandler identifies how the methods of de-extinction would be ethically questioned as they are not yet developed enough to be able to produce offspring that carry no health problems, this is covered by ethics because if the method is not advanced enough to produce a healthy animal then they shouldn’t be used, as that would be no life for the animal, being riddled with ‘health problems and abnormalities.’ When then considering de-extinction these issues grow, ‘due to (the) greater likelihood of genetic imperfections and lower levels of information about the species.’ Here Sandler sums up my two points on how ethically speaking, animal welfare is a recurring issue when discussing de-extinction, we as humans have not discovered presently to safest way to bring back these animals and nor do we hold enough knowledge on them to be sure that they are completely healthy and clean of abnormalities.

Counter arguing the point on animal welfare Sandler compared the welfare problem of de-extinction with the present welfare problem of animals being used in research (scientists in the US alone use approximately 12-27 million animals in research) and in animal agriculture. ‘Animal suffering is ethically significant’ and so Sandler explains how any research and experiments linked to de-extinction should make sure that they cause the least amount of suffering for the animals, which are ‘in accordance with all animal welfare laws and best practices and with appropriate research oversight,’ therefore lowering the ethical objections to that research. He also though highlights that the apprehensions about the research and experiments not considering animal welfare are not so different to the concerns which are documented nowadays about the welfare of practices including animals. Sandler’s goes onto conclude that even though the idea of animal welfare has to be recognised, it should not be the reason for why the research behind de-extinction should not progress. As the final ethical issue in his paper ‘The Ethics of Reviving Long Extinct Species’, Sandler discussed how to process of de-extinction ‘is hubristic or akin to “playing God”’, this idea is cause for concern when covering the topic because of what the process of de-extinction hold, the manipulation of genes and the use of cloning to resurrect an animal which has be dead for in some cases tens of thousands of year. As seen through history, humans are never satisfied with what they have, once they have created something, they are then next striving to create something bigger and better.

This is cause for unease when considering de-extinction because once we discover a way to bring back the animals, we will not be content. This will cause problems because then we are left with the dilemma of who has a say in which animals are brought back, and what these animals are then used for. This idea ties in with animal welfare because we will never be able to release these animals back into the wild, and so they will be created so that they can remain in labs and be studies or they are put on show. Either way that is no life for a living breathing animal, and so again my point reiterates the important of considering animal welfare. The method for de-extinction will become a weapon, which will only be accessible for those who have the money to outbid the rest. By ‘playing God’ we are changing what is believed to be the course of the universe, these animals became extinct in a time where they could survive, they are not adapted to this evolved earth that we are living on so how can we bring them into it and expect to study them as they were in their own environment. There are many hubris concerns identified, the main one I believe is that fact that as Sandler put it we will begin to treat the animals that we have revived as ‘mere genomic pieces or building blocks’, and we will soon come to the conclusion that ‘we can design organisms better than nature can.’ This meaning that we will soon shape the world as we seem right, claiming it as our, instead of trying to instead accommodate the human race to it. This idea Sandler however argues with the fact that there is no evidence to support that everyone who is performing research for or has some involvement in the progression of de-extinction has a subdual view on living things. Therefore, we cannot prevent what will be one of the biggest breakthroughs in science, because some people are not doing this because of what it would mean to science, but rather what it would mean for themselves.

Scientists have already comprised lists of animals they want to bring back, one of the main ones being the Woolly Mammoth. Many scientists support the reviving of these magnificent species because not just because it will be ground breaking for science, but also because there is evidence that bringing back the Woolly Mammoth could save the world. 12,000 years ago, the ice age was ending and the environment was warming, but the Woolly Mammoth was doing fine, the population of the Woolly Mammoth was a couple million, they lived around the ring of the world which is not Canada and Russia. This was until humans came along, we soon ate the majority of the species to extinction. However, a family of 500 strong found protection of an island called Wrangel island, by crossing an ice bridge. Due to the islands protection the family was able to last another 8,000 years, so they were around when we were building pyramids. This was of course until we as humans built a boat and then ate them to complete extinction. The Woolly Mammoth was documented as extinct 3,000 years ago. In the present day due to the warming of the world people are finding perfectly preserved Woolly Mammoths as they arise from the melting ice. (Mezrich, 2017)

Scientist Dr George Church and a team of geneticists at Harvard are said to be on the verge pf bringing back the Woolly Mammoth says Ben Mezrich in his TED talk ‘Bringing back the Woolly Mammoth to save the world.’ Mammoths have only been extinct 3,000 years and so we still have their genetic material, unlike dinosaurs which have been extinct for too long. We cannot clone the Mammoths that have been discovered because they have been bombarded with radiation for 3,000 years, but we can synthesis it. Dr George realised that you can pick the genes that code for a Woolly Mammoth, which is 23 genes that make an Elephant a Woolly Mammoth. You can take those genes, synthesis them and then insert them into the embryo of an Asian Elephant. This will result in the Elephant giving birth to a Woolly Mammoth. Mezrich in his talk then goes onto explain why this would be done. The obvious reason people would argue is because we can, and it will allow us to study the animal in its living form. Mezrich however, talks about how by bringing back the Woolly Mammoth it could in fact save the world from its fate.

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Is Resurrection Biology Both An Ethical And Sustainable Concept? (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
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