Reviving the mammoth raises questions of ethics, consequences

Dr. Beth Shapiro, who wrote the book How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction, doesn't believe that mammoths, extinct for the last 3,000 years, will come back. But the University of California Santa Cruz paleo-geneticist believes a plan announced Monday to restore thousands of woolly mammoths to the Siberian tundra ought to advance the field of de-extinction.

The privately funded company Colossal plans to gene-edit 1.5 million sections in a strand of an Asian elephant's DNA to produce something resembling a living mammoth cell and then place it into an artificial womb to grow a woolly mammoth embryo

That could perhaps some day allow us to save and restore endangered species all around the globe, Shapiro said.

"Then this is a major win for biodiversity conservation," she said.

It is also very reminiscent of a three-decade-old movie that ends poorly for both the de-extinct creatures and many of their human creators. As Jeff Goldblum's character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, says in 1993's Jurassic Park: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

"There is not a need for oversight or ethical overview or community consultation or international collaboration after we have this technology," Shapiro said. "There's a need for this right now, before we have this technology."

"Jurassic Park, Cretaceous Park: Probably out of the question," Stanford University law professor Hank Greely said.

But Greely, the director of the Center for Law and Biosciences, believes we might one day learn to give life to any species that existed in the last 1 million years.

"Saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, dire wolves," he said. "Those could be fair game."

And this creates an ethical quagmire of risks to the welfare of those animals, the environmental consequences of releasing them back into the wild, and one more thing: "And that is playing God," Greely said.

But he also sees many benefits to the experiments now underway: scientific and technological advancements, reparative justice for the animals we've killed off, and "it would be cool," Greely said.

Colossal declined FOX 5 NY's request for an interview Friday.

"We may ultimately see something like an animal park, safari park with mammoths and saber-toothed cats and ground sloths and so on brought to you by Citi Corp.," Greely said.

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