Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Woolly Mammoth DNA, Genes, Mapped

Scientists have successfully sequenced the gene map of a woolly mammoth using DNA from hair samples. There are surprising results. Woolly mammoths are even more closely related to modern elephants than previously thought. Also, there is evidence that inbreeding was a possible contributor to their extinction.

While it is laudatory that modern science has the ability to map the DNA and collect more data about these creatures, some of the other possibilities that this event supplies are ethically problematic. One Scientist, from Penn State, said, "By deciphering this genome we could, in theory, generate data that one day may help other researchers to bring the woolly mammoth back to life by inserting the uniquely mammoth DNA sequences into the genome of the modern-day elephant. This would allow scientists to retrieve the genetic information that was believed to have been lost when the mammoth died out, as well as to bring back an extinct species that modern humans have missed meeting by only a few thousand years." Why on earth does he think this would be a good idea? Hasn't he watched Jurassic Park?

Seriously, though, this brings up ethical dilemmas by the handful. If they successfully created mammoths and/or bred them, would they be owned or released? What about humans (the human genome was fully decoded about five years ago)? Is it right to patent or own genetically manipulated creatures/humans? Can experiments be more ethically performed on lab created specimens than on naturally created beings? What would the reintroduced mammoths' effect be on the environment? If we cannot keep elephant populations stable, how can we do so with mammoths? What country would allow them to be set free? These questions are just the tip of the mammoth-cicle.

What can be done with science often surpasses what should be done. Ian Malcom's protest in the movie Jurassic Park, "You were so eager to see if you could, that you didn't stop to consider whether you should[,]" ought to be ringing in our ears. I am glad that the DNA is mapped and certain questions have been answered. But I would suggest that we ought to let sleeping mammoths lie.

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