Control over genetics will usher in many opportunities for good, bad, and unpleasant politics-

Our direct ability to manipulate genes is growing so powerful that many scientists say it won’t be long before extinct species can be “resurrected.” This has already been anticipated in sci fi movies like Jurrasic Park and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (chimera).  Even easier will be the creation of chimera — organisms whose cells are a mosaics of two or more species. Think rabbit plus jellyfish. This actually has already been done. There are fluorescent white rabbits created by inserting a jellyfish gene into a fertilized rabbit egg. The same with cats.

Genetic diseases can and will be cured in advance, or even after they have begun.  This would seem to be nothing but a good thing all around, but already opposition has emerged from various groups who think they will lose out in some way from this, e.g., perhaps religions who benefit by supplying succor to those who suffer from “God’s Will.”

Genetic engineering will take immense wisdom. The reality is that this knowledge and the ability to apply it is being dropped on top of an economy dominated by corporations who have little to no interest in the side effects of their actions, a government that seems to think new animals and plants equal new weapons, and where aggressive religions views are on the march asserting that fertilized human ova are truly full blown people with all the rights, duties, and privileges of a real (a born) person.

Science Daily has run a spate of articles this last week on these issues. Most relevant to the Wildlife News is probably this one, Can Synthetic Biology Save Wildlife? From Re-Creating Extinct Species to the Risk of Genetically Modified Super-Species.   The article describes a recent scientific article arguing the field of synthetic biology and that of conservation biology need to start talking to each other. Indeed!

The paper says that there are five critical issues for discussion:

  1. The possibilities of recreating extinct species.
  2. How synthetic organisms will interact with existing species.
  3. Our current definition of what “natural” is.
  4. Using synthetic biology to produce natural services for humans (e.g. carbon sequestration, pollution control).
  5. The use of synthetic life for private benefits, as in the applications for industrial processes, agriculture, and aquaculture; how will a balance be struck between private risk and gain vs. public benefit and safety?

It is easy to see that discussion or the failure to discuss are already upon us, and many don’t like that fact that among the first genetic products created was “Roundup Ready” soybeans, and similar life forms where the desire for profits from one patented herbicide (Roundup) led to the creation of patented life, and also to the predicted (but glossed over) side effects which have already led to emergence of superweeds and superpests. In response to corporate lobbying, Congress just passed what critics call the Monsanto Protection Act, which Obama just signed into law. Such public disregarding, ecologically ignorant legislation is amazing, but now law.  There was almost no public discussion of the bill either  though perhaps the public will eventually be heard, e.g., Top senator apologizes for ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ after public outrage. RT.com. The bill was which was just slipped into “must-pass” legislation, the $982 billion six-month government appropriations bill needed to keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year.

It seems like these issues might benefit from a full discussion on The Wildlife News.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

37 Responses to Ability to restore extinct species (and more) is coming

  1. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    The American public have relied on Senate Democrats to be a backstop against dangerous policy riders like this,” he said. “We call on [Mikulski] to ensure that this rider is stricken from any future appropriations bills.”

    This is a prime example of “Democratic failure” in our government. We’ve come to expect some conservative Republicans to oppose progressive views and put up roadbloacks, but when Democrats allow it it is a huge disappointment. Ineffectual. The “My hand are tied” excuse is wearing thin. At least the conservatives are being honest in their views.

    I call genetic tinkering “Invasive Species 2.0”. I realize there is value to it, but I worry that greed and profits will negate the good potential of it. Of course in medicine it has great potential, but it appears to be doing great damage to the environment with the genetically altered seeds. And they are planting them in wildlife refuges! I really don’t understand that.

    1.The possibilities of recreating extinct species.
    2.How synthetic organisms will interact with existing species.
    3.Our current definition of what “natural” is.

    These are some of the bugaboos I fear with this technology. I don’t feel it is natural. And I worry that with the ability to retain the DNA of species on the verge of extinction will just allow us to carry on with destroying animals and their habitat if we think “oh well, we can bring them back.” It will be flawed.

  2. avatar Tman says:

    Does this mean that they could recreate dinosaurs?

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      It is doubtful. To recreate an extinct species directly, they will need to have some good, largely undamaged DNA. The dinosaurs were so long ago, no DNA is left. On the other hand, mammoths and mastodon DNA is available. They are seriously thinking of “reanimating” the Tasmanian Tiger.

  3. avatar MarcusB says:

    Can i please have a talking dog?

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      The issue of mixing human DNA with that of any animal raises big ethical questions, and is often prohibited, though it has already been done on the basis of several genes — human brain astrocytes were implanted into mice brains where the mice astrocytes were croweded out. The mice seemed smarter and more fearful (as they should be since they were laboratory mice after all).

      • avatar rork says:

        Oh, we pop human or synthetic genes in mice all the time. In my area it is so we can give the mice specific cancers via “floxed” alleles, that give mutations just in specific tissues (where we engineered second a gene to express a recombinase in only that tissue, which then rearranges parts of the first gene). We then test our drugs ability to treat the cancer – and we know the key mutations that particular cancer has. It’s instrumental in cancer research.

        • avatar rork says:

          I should have added, the trick is so useful that Oliver Smythies (and others) got a well-deserved Nobel prize.

  4. avatar Robert M. Prowler says:

    I have two issues with genetic engineering:
    1 nowhere has there been an open discussion as to whether scientists have the right to create life or impose their work upon the rest of humanity.
    2 The members of congress are owned by big business to the point that they have to report to the corporate boards before enacting legislation. Simply put we have the most corrupt government in the history of the western world.

    • avatar Mark L says:

      Robert M Prowler,

      I don’t think scientists can actually create life, only modify it to their will….which may be even worse. I don’t think the issue will be resolved until science creates an organism that offends or injures so many people that we can’t help but oppose it in majority. The stuff we are seeing now is small potatoes compared with what’s coming (JMHO).
      Maybe we should put state legislatures in charge of the science and morality part, cause they are doing so well already.

  5. avatar Stephen says:

    Very nice to see you being dismissive of very serious and real ethical and philosophical concerns regarding eugenics. Excellent journalism. Clearly no bias here. You are obviously an authority on these topics, being a professor of political science and all. I also really liked your confusing, rambling swipes at religion as well. It is probably better to set up straw men than actually engage this topic, anyway.

    • avatar JB says:

      @Stephen:

      Perhaps you missed this: “It seems like these issues might benefit from a full discussion on The Wildlife News.”

      Seems like Ralph has openly invited you to discuss these issues, without placing any bounds upon the discussion. You might consider filling folks in on the history of eugenics and/or presenting your own views on the topic, rather than resorting to sarcasm?

    • avatar JEFF E says:

      I don’t believe eugenics and synthetic biology are the same thing in that eugenics is basically a means of changing an entity by selective breeding whereas synthetic biology represents introducing otherwise foreign genetic material into an entity to affect a change.

  6. avatar WM says:

    “Reviving Extinct Species: We can. But Should We?” is also the cover/lead article of the April 2013, National Geographic magazine.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      WM,

      Yes I saw it today after I wrote the article. Then my copy of New Scientist arrived, and they had an article on genetic engineering and cancer, such as rork discussed above. So I am glad I was so timely.

      • avatar WM says:

        Ralph,

        Timely, and definitely a topic of stong interest. I just looked at the counter for viewing of this article, and it is almost 10x what the average is, with only a day of availablity. Congratulations, and well done.

        • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

          WM,

          Thanks! I am amazed at the interest. The Wildlife News had its best day ever by about 3000 hits over the past record.

  7. avatar JEFF E says:

    “….. billions of dollars being invested annually.”

    To my mind is who and why. Follow the money. If that much is being poured into this then there has to be an expectation of profit, and not just at ((sometime in the future)).

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      +1

    • avatar rork says:

      I’m no expert but the one I hear about is trying to engineer organisms (maybe start with algae) to make allot of some molecule that is (or can easily be converted to) fuel. Maybe imagine something like an oil. Doing something better than getting ethanol from fermentation is the idea. If it can be done well there would be a profit, just as there is for making better solar panels, which I hope is also being researched.

  8. avatar Dante says:

    If you fully understand evolution, you can see how this is beneficial. A technology like this is NECESSARY. We are doing a damage to this planet that is very serious. For future generations when they decide to rebuild this planet or maybe terraform Mars to make it livable or who knows maybe other planets, technology like this is imperative. Ethics…is a point of view. Science do not care about your point of view…facts are facts. God is not real, so do not even pretend for a second that religious people have a saying in this that is valid. We need to allow this technology to fluorish so we can reach real cures and get away from “pill medicine” that only treat the symptoms not cure them. Bringing back a specie is a very good thing as long as it is beneficial for the environment that is going to be in it. Study biology, stop the religious crap and nonsense, grow up and face the facts that we are at the verge of a very good thing.

    • avatar Louise Kane says:

      Dante,

      I take exception to your statement that genetic tinkering is necessary. I’d prefer to see humans alter the course of their destructive practices then rely on new technology to repair the damage humans to do wildlife, habitats and ecosystems. Its not that I am against new technology, its the application of that new technology to natural systems, the potential for radially altering natural ecosystems and the power it can create. For example, Ralph points out one good example of the potential for abuse when he writes…”It is easy to see that discussion or the failure to discuss are already upon us, and many don’t like that fact that among the first genetic products created was “Roundup Ready” soybeans, and similar life forms where the desire for profits from one patented herbicide (Roundup) led to the creation of patented life, and also to the predicted (but glossed over) side effects which have already led to emergence of superweeds and superpests. In response to corporate lobbying, Congress just passed what critics call the Monsanto Protection Act, which Obama just signed into law. Such public disregarding, ecologically ignorant legislation is amazing, but now law. There was almost no public discussion of the bill either though perhaps the public will eventually be heard, e.g., Top senator apologizes for ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ after public outrage. RT.com. The bill was which was just slipped into “must-pass” legislation, the $982 billion six-month government appropriations bill needed to keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year.”. The passage of this law is an outrage.

      Furthermore the issue of patenting life is a bizarre concept that provides for further outrages. Did you know that organic farmers can be sued if GMO corn or soy or other crops cross fertilize with their organic crops. Here is a link about this. http://www.rodale.com/research-feed/organic-vs-monsanto-organic-farmers-lose-right-protect-crops.

      and here is another link….http://www.dailytech.com/Monsanto+Defeats+Small+Farmers+in+Critical+Bioethics+Class+Action+Suit/article24118.htm.

      The ramifications of the ruling against organic farmers is serious for the organic farmers as well as for those of us who do not want to ingest GMO foods or are concerned about the impact that the cross fertilization is having on the genetic health of food and feed crops.

      and here is a reasonable article on the risks of allowing the fast tracked genetically modified salmon into the wild salmon gene pool. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/frankenfish-phobia/
      the reason nature is so resilient is that organisms have had time to adapt and evolve and work out survival strategies. Genetic tinkering is to me a frightening uncharted territory that is rife already with corrupted politics.

      Its not just religious zealots that fear abuses in the development of technological advances. healthy skeptisim is warranted especially when companies like Monsanto are engaged.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Well said, Louise. Every word. I don’t think a little healthy skepticism (due to experience!) equals religious zealotry?

  9. avatar Wolfy says:

    I like the South Park parody of the Island of Dr. Moreau and the monkey with four butts.

  10. avatar zach says:

    It’s funny that people want to bring back these extinct creatures when we can’t even deal with our endangered ones in a sane fashion. I’d rather make sure elephants, tigers, wolves, etc, had a fair shake before we talk about bringing back mastadons, dodos, etc.

    • avatar Mark L says:

      I can see the irony too, but we CAN do more than one thing at once. These two issues are indirectly, not directly, related. I also think there needs to be a ‘non-essential, experimental’ designation for them at some point, and a species distinction.

      • avatar JB says:

        Well put, Mark. I had the same reaction when I read the NGM article on this topic last week.

      • avatar topher says:

        I’m guessing its rather difficult to have a mastadon unless you have an elephant to start with.

  11. avatar aves says:

    How are we doing addressing current threats of climate change, habitat loss, poaching, etc? The same issues that threaten wildlife now will threaten any resurrected species.

    At the current rate at which mankind is eliminating today’s species any attempts to revive extinct ones will resemble the chocolate factory assembly line from “I Love Lucy”.

  12. avatar Immer Treue says:

    Rather than make new “organisms”, why not make new “organs” from a potential donee’s own cells? Seems like this would be easier than creating a whole new organism. This way, one avoids organ rejection, and what some believe is an organ donation racket.

    I believe I have also seen where meat is being “cultured”. Think about that. Growing meat/protein for human consumption in the lab.

    • avatar JEFF E says:

      “Growing meat/protein for human consumption in the lab.”

      Already happening with flora, and I am sure I have read articles of this already in place with fish such as farm raised salmon.

      • avatar Immer Treue says:

        Jeff E,

        I’m not talking about farm raised, I’m talking about just growing slabs of meat.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      Yuck! Thank God I’ll be dead by the time it’s ready for the public!

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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