Exploring the Ethics of De-Extinction
Photo courtesy of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria through Creative Commons.

Exploring the Ethics of De-Extinction

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if wooly mammoths still existed? With new advancements in biotechnical engineering, scientists may be closer to re-creating the species than we think.

Chris Diehm, associate professor of philosophy and environmental ethics program coordinator at UWSP, presented a lecture on the topic at the Portage County Public Library.

He informed the public about the current state of de-extinction technology and how bringing extinct species back to life impacts the many other ecosystems on the planet.

“To me what was really fascinating about it was that the scientists are really making their case for what they are doing in these really specifically ethical terms. So as someone who studies environmental ethics I thought this was really fascinating,” Diehm said.

As far as the development of de-extinction technology, it is fairly advanced according to Diehm. All of the scientific theory behind the recreation process is completed and scientists are now focusing on overcoming the challenging laboratory obstacles genetic cloning presents.

In 2009, scientists recreated the Pyrenean Ibex, a species of goat also known as a bucardo, that was native to Spain. The cloning initially worked, and a recreated goat was birthed but only survived minutes before passing.

Although de-extinction has the potential to show great bio-technical engineering advancements, Diehm is not in favor of the experiments. He believes as a society we need to be proactive in keeping species around rather than focusing on bringing them back from extinction.

“The problem is, that we have life styles and behavior patterns, attitudes and values that push species away. I am worried we live in a world where we think technology fixes everything, but all technology does is address the results of problems; it does not address the causes,” Diehm said.

Similar to Diehm, many other members of the conservation community have reservations about de-extinction technology and are concerned how the re-introduction of extinct species will affect the current ecological balance.

Senior wildlife and resource management major, Dylan Genrick, agrees with the conservationist’s perspective on the issue.

“Bringing back a species that has left the system because of natural causes would not be a good idea just because the environment has moved on from them and they no longer fit into the system,” Genrick said.

He believes that re-introducing species can cause not only negative ecological changes, but because nature has a way of managing itself there is little benefit of bringing back species that are not going to function well in today’s environment.

Zachary Jones, junior natural resource planning major, echoes a similar viewpoint.

“There would probably just end up being a lot of issues with human adaptation to these de-extinct species and problems with how they would relate with how we now use the land,” Jones said.

Jones believes one of the only ways de-extinction could be effective is if the process is used to reintroduce a low impact species that has a clear benefit to the ecosystem.

According to Diehm, some skeptics of the de-extinction experimentation believe this technology encourages people to care less about their environmental impact. They think people rely on scientific advancements to fix problems and are then not as concerned about their relationship with the natural world.

“Maybe we should not just do what we want to nature and maybe we should think about our actions more carefully and live more humbly on the planet with other species,” Diehm said.

 

Mary Knight

Reporter

mknig512@uwsp.edu

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