For the first time, scientists have succeeded in recreating an extinct breed of Spanish mountain goat, the ibex, thereby bringing an animal back from extinction. For seven minutes, then the laboratory creation died again.
Just seven minutes after Spanish and French scientists brought the Pyrenean ibex back from extinction, the young animal died of lung complications also common to other cloned animals. And so an extinct species blinked into life for an instant and then flickered out again.
I'm not really clear on the benefits of trying to repopulate the world with species that are extinct, especially given that many of the same crowd pushing for those sorts of programs to be advanced seem to be the same people that are always saying we have too many people. Besides, these guys missed the real story - which is that we already have an FDR clone in the white house right now.
The success, albeit brief, is spurring scientists and conservationists alike to imagine some wild possibilities. Can extinct species–say, the dodo or even the wooly mammoth–be brought back into their natural habitats through cloning and if so should they?
The Pyrenean ibex, a species of Spanish mountain goat, was declared protected in 1973, but when the conservation plan to save the species was finally implemented in 1993 there were only 10 individuals left. The species went extinct in 2000 when the last known animal, a female named Celia, was found dead–killed by a falling tree. Critics might argue that we have no business bringing back the species from extinction, especially if the very last member of their species was hapless enough to be standing under a tree when it fell.
But scientists still face considerable hurdles before bringing an extinct species back into the wild is anything more than a conservation pipe dream. Firstly, even if the cloned female ibex had lived, she would have had no males to breed with. On top of this, there are other questions about resurrecting extinct species: can enough genetic diversity be created in cloned individuals? How feasible is it to reintroduce locally extinct, captively bred animals back into an ecosystem? If the species is reintroduced, what would stop it from falling prey to the same dangers that made it extinct?
The brief birth of the ibex brought scientists a significant step closer to the seemingly impossible feat of bringing back a vanished species. It’s conceivable that someday this technology might hold the key to resurrecting a plethora of extinct and endangered species. Already, the The Zoological Society of London and the Natural History Museum are cateloging DNA samples of endangered species in what they are calling a ‘Frozen Ark.’ But until the species resurrection technology becomes a reality, conserving extant species is still so far our best hope. We may someday be able to bring a lost species back to life forever, but for now all we have is seven minutes.
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