Cloning extinct species, importance of taxonomy
By Dr Beetle
One of the few benefits of research into cloning, apart from those who would use it to plunder and contort nature further, or bless this world with more of themselves, is that similar technology could be used to clone extinct animals to repopulate the earth. Eventually, the technology will be available, but what of the will? I think that one day, humans will understand the value of wildness, and it will become an obsession for them to live amongst it, to touch and see it. Linking more closely with nature will provide them with the sense of completion and fulfilment now lacking. Afterall, wildness is the highest level of evolutionary achievement available to any species. And, the best teachers of how to get the most out of yourselves are the other species that do it all so well.
The problem is that by the time humans realise the true value and meaning of nature, they will have destroyed at least half of it, and the remaining half will be so fragmented that the wisdom and parsimony embedded within its organisation will be crippled. Currently, there are estimates that one-quarter of the species will be lost within 50 years due to global warming and the continued fragmentation of natural reserves. In Australia, when you add in the ecological impact from the recent introduction of fire ants to Queensland and cane toads to Kakadu, continued land clearing, and that tree I grew up with has been cleared for yet another housing development, what hope does nature have within the current scope of human mentality?
Cloning offers an insurance policy for better days. The technology is still in its infancy, but humans are adept at making great advances in areas like this. It is in understanding where they remain forever stunted. Currently, there are problems with the technology, and scientists envisage that they will need almost perfect or fresh DNA to have any real chance at cloning extinct species. Attempts with mammoths have been unsuccessful, but there is a good chance for thylacines. Prospects are even better for recently extinct species such as the bucardo or Spanish mountain goat.
Eventually, it should be possible to recover DNA from even some of the worst preserved specimens. It may even be possible to fill in some of the gaps in the DNA recipe, by understanding DNA cladistics and evolution, having a preserved specimen to look at, knowing its biology, and extrapolating from nearest neighbour species. If unsure that the clone is the same as the original, perhaps it could be released into a confined model habitat for assessment. Further, if the reconstructed clones were then released back into nature, then over time any differences would probably adjust back towards their original types as they evolve to fit in with the existing ecology. Better a clone 99.9% true than to have the species lost forever. If understanding of ecological processes was sufficiently advanced, perhaps this release could be modelled on the computer instead, to predict the consequences.
It would be a mistake to clone naturally extinct animals such as mammoths and dinosaurs. The aim should be to resurrect those species sent to extinction more recently by humans, rather than look for another circus attraction. Try to regain the last snap shot in evolutionary history that was pristine.
Of course, we still need to fight wholeheartedly for nature reserves and species preservation. Another chance at decency towards nature for humans through cloning is still wishful thinking. We need to maintain variability and diversity now, for human education, and to try and extend the time available to the dwindling number of taxonomists needed to discover and store the millions of unknown species that are still clinging on in nature.
Given the current rate of species extinction, the most important task and science for humans today must be taxonomy. An exceptional effort should be directed towards the sustainable sampling and gathering of new species, to create a modern day Noah's Ark. There is a great need for seed banks, DNA banks, museum specimens, and the storage of DNA recipes on DVD.