Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Little Bit Closer to Jurassic Park

I fully admit that I am typically the first skeptic in line when people make proclamations like "oh, we're getting close to Jurassic Park!" After all, as fantastical as the book (and movie) was, it was fantasy, and it got as much, if not more wrong, than right. So needless to say, it was with a bit of chagrin that my first reaction to reading that scientists believe that they can regenerate a woolly mammoth for around USD $10 million was, indeed, along the lines of "oh wow Jurassic Park!" In fact, my thought process, in pretty rapid succession, went something like this:
  1. Ooooooh neat!

  2. $10 million isn't really that much...

  3. Huh, yeah, it'd definitely raise ethical issues to do this to a Neanderthal, but why wouldn't it be ethically questionable for a mammoth?

  4. $10 million isn't that much at all, especially when you consider the kind of money the top philanthropists throw at science projects.

  5. Oh man, it's gonna be Jurassic Park, isn't it? Some rich philanthropist is going to go buy an island and...

Right. I do acknowledge not only being a geek, but being rather medicated to the gills on cold medicine right now, too. At least, that's gonna be my excuse!

With less levity and more seriousness, this is an interesting break, both in where the found and how they sequenced the DNA, but also for the very idea of replicating extinct species. What does it mean to be extinct, then? Does this alleviate our environmental concerns? "Oops, just wiped out the last Bengal tiger, let's go grow a new couple!" How close of a genetic match do you need to make before the animal being born now is the same animal that was last born hundreds, if not thousands, of years before?

And more in my own areas of interest: do we really have the right to bring something back from the dead? Can we assume that it died for a reason, and we might really be mucking with things to undo that? If we regenerated a mammoth today, would it have the right foods to eat? How would its immune system handle common viruses? Would the climate be right? Where would it live? Are they herd animals, or can they be solitary?

The temptation to play God is always great, especially when science allows us to do - and undo - so much. But I wonder if, this time, it might take going too far to see just where that line is.
-Kelly Hills

As a total aside, I nominate naming the first one Snuffleupagus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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