With recent disappointments in our ability to conserve and protect species in their natural habitats there has been some new focus on how we can maintain stable population ex situ. One such research program has begun in Brasilia Zoo; this study aims to clone 8 species of endangered species from South America, including jaguars, monkeys, wolves and deer.
If the research is successful they will be the first group to clone a big cat, a worthy reward after spending 2 years gathering over 400 genetic specimens from animals all over Brazil. The team has already had success cloning cows and horses but now need to reassess their methods to apply the process to wild species.
This project is aimed at safeguarding endangered species and there are similar ongoing programs in South Korea and America, and it is mostly accepted as a logical step forward by the scientific community and the public. However other cloning programs receive much more scrutiny due to their controversial nature.
Cloning of cows has been happening since 1997 and has always been a controversial subject. Many say that cloning animals bred for produce will increase food supplies and food quality in a world where consumption rises every year proportionally to population growth.
In the USA meat and milk from cloned animals has been sold since 2008 when it was deemed to be safe for consumption, but in the UK many groups, such as the RSPCA, WWF and Compassion in World Farming have a different stance. The majority of opposition stems from the idea that the health of cloned animals is lesser than that of natural born species, and the possibility that products from cloned animals may be detrimental to human health. In the EU such products are classed as ‘novel’ and therefore require authorisation before they can be brought into the UK and must pass certain regulations before being put on sale. Despite these rules meat from clone descendants has already been on sale in the UK without any indication of the nature of the product, therefore the Food Standards Agency and the public were not aware that the items came from clones.
With these kinds of issues it will take time to authorise the advance in cloning and related disciplines in terms of commercial products, in research it seems simpler. For scientists looking at paleobiology the idea of cloning is a far off dream. Although acquiring funding and authorisation would be less fraught with opposition the collection of fragments and missing pieces hold back most studies.
Recently, possible living mammal cells were found in Siberia for none other than the extinct woolly mammoth. The genetic code for this species has been mostly deciphered, and if living cells were acquired research into cloning a live specimen could begin. This idea has fascinated the public since the release of Jurassic Park and the debate that followed about the ethics and possibilities of such a project.
The palaeontologist who advised on the film, Jack Horner, states that it would be a long time off for cloning extinct animals, for this, and other more childish reasons; he has opted for a different route to bring back his favorite animals. The process he hopes to use will begin with the humble chicken. He will basically de-evolve the bird and select genetic characteristics until he creates his own little dinosaur. This idea could mean that the species created would be friendlier, look more interesting and be easier to control than those of the epic trilogy years ago. We only hope that he can get this project completed soon so that we might have our own scaly friend.