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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Woolly mammoth 'rebirth' a hairy possibility

(Public Domain)
Whereas "de-extinction" of the woolly mammoth might sound like a hoot (or a bellow), it might not be all that much fun if not handled ethically.

Although more closely related to the Asian elephant, the woolly mammoth (aka Mammuthus primigenius) was somewhat the size of today's African elephant.  Its fur (thick), ears and tail (short) were adapted to the extreme cold of the last ice age.  Nevertheless,
Wikipedia reports that it disappeared about 10,000 years ago - "most likely through a combination of climate change, consequent disappearance of its habitat, and hunting by humans."

Ironically, humans are now seriously considering the possibility of reintroducing this species to the world via cloning.  Although this may not yet be feasible (due to the "degraded state" of available genetic material), it seems just a matter of time before it could become be a reality.

Now is therefore the time for serious ethical questions to be raised.  Live Science recently reported on specific points made by American Museum of Natural History curator Ross MacPhee.

MacPhee outlined the following "major ethical and logistical questions" concerning de-extinction:  Where would they live?  ("Home, Home on the Range" is now just a song); What would they eat? (even the Jolly Green Giant can't keep up with their appetites for long); Would they eventually become an 'invasive species'? (and if so, then what?); Could their reintroduction negatively affect the chances of modern endangered species? (and if so, why go there?); and Would 21st-century microbes be incompatible with the woolly mammoth's digestive system? (a gut-wrenching possibility).


Copyright October 9, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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