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Resurrection of the Woolly Mammoth: is Cloning Ethical?

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

This ancient creature walked the earth tens and thousands of years ago, during a period known as the late Pleistocene, aka part of the Ice Age. Hunting and drastic environmental changes were most likely the causes of the species demise about 10,000 years ago.

Resurrection of the Woolly Mammoth: is cloning ethical?

Image courtesy of Amber Strocell

Recent attention has been brought to the idea of cloning these creatures as more and more frozen, well-preserved woolly mammoth bodies have been discovered. The increase in discoveries is a result of the ice melting away and increased awareness in regions where they once roamed.

The same scientist who notoriously cloned the sheep, Dolly, speculates that the woolly mammoth could be cloned, but not in the same way. A more advanced technique involving the conversion of tissue cells into stem cells would be required.

Most skepticize at the actuality of this happening though for a number of reasons. First, a significant number of woolly mammoth cells would be needed with healthy DNA intact. This is hard to come by due to the fact that once the ice begins melting away the preservation of these animals degenerates rapidly. Another major issue is that cloning these ancient beasts requires the help of one of our favorite animals here at Frontier, the Asian elephant.

The elephant is the most closely related species to the woolly mammoth and elephant eggs would be required for the cloning procedure. Scientists say up to 500 elephant eggs could be needed to effectively pull of the cloning. Not to mention, a female elephant would then have to carry the embryo inside her as it is the only animal big enough to give birth to a woolly mammoth baby.

This runs into major issues in the conservation world. Elephants are endangered species and cannot afford to have any number of eggs taken from them. There is also high risk in subjecting a female elephant to be the surrogate as there is a high chance it could die in pregnancy and childbirth.

Most research suggests that woolly mammoths were very similar to modern elephants; thought to be highly social and intelligent creatures. If woolly mammoths were recreated they would most likely be kept in confinement at zoos or research facilities where they would not be leading the lifestyles these creatures were meant to live.

So the question remains? Is cloning the woolly mammoth an ethical decision?

The obvious answer at this point in science is no.

Though there would be much to learn and observe through the recreation of this ancient beast, there is much more to lose. We would be killing away the world around us that we do have left, trying to bring back something that has been long gone. If we focus on the protection and conservation for the threatened species and habitats around us, we could prevent the doom that fell upon the woolly mammoth many centuries ago.

By Kendall Heldoorn

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Resurrection of the Woolly Mammoth: is cloning ethical?

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