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Maybe we’re not trying to clone woolly mammoths now

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Maybe we're not trying to clone woolly mammoths now

Photo: Daniel Eskridge / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Playing with the megafauna usually doesn’t work for the human parties involved, whether it’s a fictional island theme park overrun by killer dinosaurs or Florida, where Hurricane Andrew in 1992 released countless exotic species that kept as pets, resulting in invasive Burmese pythons that live in over 1,000 square miles of the state.

Colossal, a company that clones and reintroduces thousands of Siberian woolly mammals in Siberia, is adding to this legacy. George Church, a Harvard Medical School biologist, is leading the project to integrate mammoth hairs and tendencies into the elephant DNA and create mammoth embryos within just a few years.

If they are able to do so, there could be benefits for the entire world. Some researchers suggest that woolly mammoths helped turn the now mossy tundra into fertilized grassland; If the Frankenstein version could recreate that feat, the tundra could serve as a buffer against erosion and a potential carbon sink to help fight global warming. Colossal, who describes itself as “the de-extinction company,” also hopes that the woolly mammoth’s revival could serve as a first step in further genetic modifications to save endangered species on a biodiversity-threatened planet by their DNA is rewritten to enable them to adapt to a changing climate.

But as the New York Times notes, there are some obvious concerns about the ambition:

If Colossal manages to produce mammoth-like baby elephants, the company will be asking serious ethical questions. It is humane to create an animal whose biology is so unknown. Who decides whether the animals can be released into the wild, potentially causing a profound change in tundra ecosystems.

Heather Bushman, philosopher from the London School of Economics said that any benefits mammoths bring to the tundra must balance against the suffering they could suffer if they were released by scientists.

She stated that “you don’t have any mother for a mammoth species that – if they’re like elephants at all- has extraordinarily strong mother-child bond that lasts a very long while.” “If there are only a few small mammoths on the ground, who will ensure that they are cared for?”

In light of the recent controversy over much simpler gain-of-function research, it may be best to leave this idea in the ground for now – or, better yet, to actually use political means to prevent it from happening
worst effects of the climate crisis, instead of playing around with profound adaptation plans deliberately affecting Jurassic Park.

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