| Bioethics Final Practice Essay
By Elliott Matthews
Hendrick Poinair’s Speech “Not All Mammoths Were Woolly” on http://tedxdeextinction.org/
Out of the entire Bioethics curriculum, I’m not sure that any topic interests me as much as cloning. What parameters surround this incredible science and what implications does it actually hold? One of the more interesting applications to this technology is that we can use it to revive extinct species of animals and plants, a process some like to call de-extinction. With this simple word, de-extinction, one could take a room of friendly people and easily turn them against each other. In the article “Bringing Them Back To Life” by Carl Zimmer, which I will use as an artifact, the possibilities of successfully being able to bring extinct species back through cloning as well as the sides that support and oppose this process are discussed. The article as a whole supports de-extinction, but there are also very good points made in opposition which makes this a nice piece to read to get a better feel of the conflicts held over this topic. Where I will use some of these opposing views to discuss the topic of using cloning to bring back extinct animals, I will ultimately try to show why it is more beneficial to utilize this technology than to oppose its advancement.
I think this technology is absolutely amazing! This article kept me the hooked the entire time I was reading it because it addressed several different issues on cloning and de-extinction, providing both pros and cons, all while speaking to how the actual science and process works. The first thing I learned about this process is that unless we have enough DNA to complete the genome or find intact cells of the species, then we cannot hope to revive these animals. The necessity of their genetic material sadly means that dinosaurs and any other creature that lived outside of tens of thousands of years ago cannot be resurrected by our procedures. This is a somber note although I feel there are still numerous different other species that would be just as interesting to revive. Another interesting perspective I found in the article was that we have the “obligation” to revive the animals we caused to go extinct. There are definitely moral implications behind this question, but who to say what is right? Continuing on with the support for cloning procedures, the thing I felt was one of the stronger arguments made for de-extinction is that it could help animals who are not extinct yet but could become so in the future. I found this to be a great point especially whenever you consider how difficult it is to breed some animals in captivity. I think my favorite part of this article was the final two sentences though. “What intrigues me is just that it’s really cool,” Greely says. “A saber-toothed cat? It would be neat to see one of those.” The sole reason why we discuss this topic and the same reason I am writing this paper is because it is absolutely fascinating! I think that it is the coolest thing to be able to look in to the past and see creatures that are not of our time. This article has caused me to realize that the only thing better than being able to learn about these animals would actually be seeing them in real life, and that is exactly what de-extinction can provide.
After reading this article and learning more about this process I feel I am much better prepared now to discuss cloning and de-extinction. I saw the arguments to be had and have weighed the pros and cons. In the end I will continue to support this scientific advancement because of the awe inspiring capabilities that it possesses. Since we were children we have been preached to about doing what makes us happy. Scientists do their research and studies for this very reason, it makes them happy. To have the possibility to do something as amazing as bring a Tasmanian Tiger back from extinction will bring great joy to many people and to not take advantage of this would be wrong. If logic overtakes passion and the human element then we lose part of ourselves. By restricting these capabilities we would be doing just that. So I say let’s support de-extinction for the joy of science, discovery, and just plain human desire.
Bringing extinct species back to life through cloning hold incredible possibilities, but there is one crucial point to be made about that statement. The clones are animals. What happens whenever the entity being cloned is human? It should go without saying that this topic is far more complex and controversial than the topic of de-extinction. To get a better view of this situation I enlisted the help of an article written on “Human Cloning” by the American Medical Association. This article is my second artifact. It does a good job of showing both sides to the argument for cloning and does a strong job explaining how the entire process actually works as well. Out of the entire article though, there were two points that really caught my attention. The first was how the public would react to failed human cloning experiments and the second, how this could hinder the efforts of scientists to create different tissues, nerves, and organs for patients in need ; a variation of cloning in itself.
Before this article, I never had thought about the consequences of failed cloning attempts. I was too mesmerized by this topic to think about the negatives. You always know that there are successes and failures, but because I’m not actually interacting with this science other than reading articles the thought of failures hasn’t really ever crossed my mind. When it comes down to it, during a failed cloning attempt the public will see one thing: a dead baby. It is also important to realize as a society we are still at the beginning stages to perfecting this process. Just as any other great technological advance in our history there will be crucial errors that will have to be made; a very controversial but necessary requirement. In the long run though I believe it is undoubtedly worth it. Would we get rid of planes, cars, and electricity in exchange for all of the casualties that have transpired throughout their histories? I think not. Another reason I feel this way has to do with the second point that stood out to me in the article. We are on the verge of being able to replace damaged organs, tissues, and other necessary body parts by growing them individually. With this advancement there would be no more organ donors or lengthy lines of people waiting for transplants. I feel to hinder this process in any way would be a travesty and would end up being a bigger detriment to life than avoiding cloning all together.
Because I find animals more interesting than humans, let’s jump back into the world of de-extinction. My final artifact is a speech that was given by Hendrick Poinar on de-extinction and the Woolly Mammoth. Listening to his Ted talk was phenomenal. He made very interesting points and had a great amount of information that I have not been able to find anywhere else within my research. One of the more exciting things he mentioned in his talk was how the Woolly Mammoth was a highly plastic animal, meaning they could adapt to climate changes very well. This was an extremely exciting tid bit of information because it can resolve the issue of if we are able to resurrect the Mammoth species what habitat could they live in? Obviously the world has changed a great deal from the time Mammoth’s roamed the Earth, but there are still cold and Mammoth like environments on our Earth. Poinar suggests Northern Siberia and the Yukon as two areas that Mammoths could be relocated to. Due to their plastic nature, even though they would not be living in the exact same environment as in history’s past they would definitely be able to adapt!
Another interesting point that was made involved how Mammoth DNA is accrued. I was under the impression that if you were able to get any sorts of tissues or blood from an organism you would have its full DNA and genome. I never considered that DNA degrades over time. So I found it fascinating whenever Poinar discussed that whenever DNA is extracted from fossils you are able to receive certain amounts of desired DNA, but you also get bacteria, fungi, and anything else that was around the fossil at the time it was buried. Once this was established I found it even more interesting that in order for DNA to be preserved the consistency of temperature in the fossil’s environment played more of a role in degradation of the fossil than the actual amount of time it was buried!
Of all these facts though I think the most fascinating was that Mammoths did not go extinct until about 3,000 years ago. This was around the same time the Egyptians were building their pyramids. After Poinar mentioned this my mind was blown. Who associates Mammoths living in the same time frame as the Egyptians? I would have never guessed this unless I had stumbled across the tedxdeextinction talks.
As a whole cloning is a fascinating subject that holds much scientific promise in the years to come. I am glad that I was able to find such interesting artifacts as they have greatly enhanced my knowledge on cloning, de-extinction, and how they pertain to everyday ethical values. I still hope that one day we are able to see these extinct animals once again and that people do not get caught up in arguments regarding the topic that will hold the technology back. I supported de-extinction before and these artifacts have only strengthened my reserve. Science provides the means to do incredible things and that is precisely what I want to see come out of this technology.