De Extinction Essay

1614 words - 7 pages

“The Mammoth Cometh” by Nathaniel Rich in the New York Times is an article that details the prospect of “de-extinction” and how scientists within the community have been forming arguments about how to best begin understanding what new technologies are capable of. “De-extinction” is the term given to the process by which scientists can bring back extinct animals, such as the wolly mammoth or the great auk, through genetic engineering. In order to ground the analysis of “de-extinction”, the author focuses particularly on the life of Ben Novak, a scientist, who from a young age, showed an incredible passion for bringing back the passenger pigeon.
The passenger pigeon, a once abundant species, ...view middle of the document...

The National Geographic Society held a larger conference several months later, but focused on the scientific and ethical questions raised by the prospect of “de-extinction” instead of the technologies being introduced. Ecological arguments were raised at the conference as well. Ecologists in support of furthering the research for “de-extinction” cited that reintroducing woolly mammoths could help protect the Arctic permafrost from melting due to their grazing habits. Brand claims that the idea of “de-extinction” was framed in “terms of conservations” and that one of its first goals is a hope to increase the richness of the ecosystem. A new project was born out of this symposium called “Revive & Restore”, which is now the key organization regarding the research and execution of “de-extinction.”
One particular argument made for those in favor of “de-extinction” that the author touches upon is one proposed by the ethicist Hank Greely and a law professor Jacob Sherkow. Together they argued in Science that “de-extinction” should be pursued because “it would be really cool.” Greely and Sherkow describe this as the “biggest attraction and possibility the biggest benefit of de-extinction”, going on to say that “it would surely be very cool to see a living woolly mammoth.” Even the author, Nathaniel Rich describes this as “a less scientific”, but “more persuasive” argument. This used simple language and is an appeal to the interest of the public on a most basic level – one does not need to understand how these animals are brought back, but needs to just consider the awe of seeing such a creature. The idea that scientists should bring back extinct animals “because it’s cool” draws an important question – should scientists bring back extinct animals just because we eventually might have the sufficient technologies to do so? Do scientists as well as the public feel a responsibility to resurrect so many animals for which humans perpetrated or, in some cases, caused the extinction? This issue was only briefly covered in the article and the author made no reference to this issue being discussed in one of the multiple symposiums or debates held about “de-extinction.” Do humans want to admit their role in extinction?
Throughout the article, Rich describes the work scientists are doing now in the research of “de-extinction” involving the genetic code as “fantastical” or magical. He details the process of “de-extinction”, which is as followed: a scientist must sequence the genome of the specific creature or of a closely related species, culture the germ cell, then in turn inscribe this into a living cell by “cutting and pasting” the genetic code, and then introduce these living cells into an embryo. After Rich describes these steps, he states that the process of introducing the cells into an embryo would involve no “hocus-pocus.” The use of these terms creates a mystical reverence for the technology and beings to foster a public appreciation for the work as...

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