Monday, 12 January 2009

The Comeback Kids

There was a bit in the paper last week about to ongoing discussion about the possibilities of 'bringing back' mammoths, using intact dna samples and elephant surrogacy over a series of generations. I love this subject, but it is a little divisive.

My view is that I'd love to see a living mammoth, or woolly rhino, or giant ground sloth, or glyptodont. A safari park of them. Obviously, Jurassic Park has kind of covered this ground, but while the quality of any dino dna so far discovered is far from the quality needed to make the film a possible reality, there have been samples from relatively recent extinctions that might allow their emergence from extinction's recycle bin.

So - it's a possibility. Maybe not right at the moment, but it could happen. Soonish. Then we come to the ethical arguments, for and against.

Some are appalled at the idea and say that's it's playing god. Meddling where we shouldn't. Aside from being profoundly atheist, I'd say that we have been 'playing god' ever since we began lighting fires, shaping tools, using medicines. Where is the line drawn? Genetically modified food crops? Organ transplants? Stem cell research?

Where science and scientists can do something of benefit, I think they should. And seeing a mammoth would benefit me. I realise this sounds flippant, but there is a little more to it. What happens when an extant animal we love becomes extinct? With captive breeding programs and global awareness of the threat of exticition far more advanced than a few decades ago, it may seem a remote possibility that we'll lose tigers, gorillas, pandas or manatees from the planet, but it's not that unlikely. What about thylacines? Wasn't very long ago. Would bringing them back be playing god?

Introducing alien animals and plants to new environments can ahve some drastic consequences for the current inhabitants. Ask an Australian. I'm talking about rabbits and cane toads here... So there might be a call for caution before unleashing a bunch of cave bears in Manchester city centre, but this is a relatively small point.

I say bring back the giant hairy beasts of the recent past. Please?

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