The use of new technologies to bring back extinct species has recently become a topic widely discussed in the media, partly as the result of a TEDx programme on de-extinction at the National Geographic Headquarters, timed to coincide with a National Geographic cover story in April 2013. Two weeks earlier, Stuart Brand, a key proponent of de-extinction, gave his own TED talk. These public events were followed by high-profile conferences at Cambridge (UK) and Stanford Universities. These events have begun to shape the contours of ‘de-extinction,’ by defining the relevant techniques (cloning, genome editing, back breeding, stem cell manipulation) and also the actors that can legitimately participate. Thus, de-extinction is currently crystalizing into a field that includes not only bioscientists but also, to varying degrees, the popular press, bioethicists, conservationists, and scientists from other fields (for example, synthetic biologists).
De-extinction has raised a number of ethical and political questions: Will it divert resources from other tried-and-tested measures for conservation? Will the resurrected animals be classified as members of the extinct species? Are conservationists too pessimistic and sceptical about cutting-edge science to embrace its potential? How will we ethically care for the animals used in and produced by these techniques? Are there hidden commercial interests at stake? What is striking, from our perspective, is that many of these debates have been held before: the tropes regarding de-extinction are remarkably similar to those used in debates regarding cloning endangered animals.
In this paper, we explore the relevance of previous debates and argue that important insights can be gleaned from them as de-extinction moves forward, and that there is another set of questions that has not yet been adequately addressed. In line with the arguments of Marris and Rose in the opening editorial for this series “Opening Engagement: Exploring Public Participation in the Biosciences,” we examine how, in the field of cloning endangered animals, the concerns of conservationists have in some cases been the basis for reformulating scientific practices in a way that can be interpreted as a form of ‘upstream’ public engagement. We argue that de-extinction could learn valuable lessons from these earlier projects regarding how to incorporate contributions from various publics; and demonstrate what a sociological approach can add to the exploration of these questions, in ways that traditional bioethics and ELSI (Ethical, Legal and Social Implications) approaches cannot.'From dinosaurs to dodos: who could and should we de-extinct?' by Kate Elizabeth Jones in (2014) 6(1) Frontiers of Biogeography comments
Reviving extinct species with new synthetic biology tools is as exciting an idea as it is controversial. Genomic manipulation of extinct species’ close relatives and/or cloning suitably preserved cells are the two main ways synthetic biology could be used to revive species. Discussions of where to target initial revival efforts have focused on species’ charisma (e.g. Woolly mammoth, Passenger pigeon) with less emphasis on feasibility or the ecological, ethical and legal considerations. Here I discuss who we could and should de-extinct, focussing on these latter criteria. Given the current devastating anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity, I suggest that a better use of de-extinction technologies would be to focus them on preventing species extinctions by restoring populations of critically endangered species. For example, this could be through increasing population numbers through cloning or genomic manipulation to better enable susceptible species to adapt to global change or by restoring genetic diversity by reviving extinct sub-species (e.g. Quagga, Barbary lion). This idea circumvents many of the criticisms of de-extinction from conservationists, whilst retaining public interest in de-extinction.'CRISPR Critters and CRISPR Cracks' by R. Alta Charo and Henry T. Greely in (2015) 15(12) The American Journal of Bioethics 11-17 comments on
possible nonhuman applications of CRISPR/Cas9 that are likely to be widely overlooked because they are unexpected and, in some cases, perhaps even “frivolous.” We look at five uses for “CRISPR Critters”: wild de-extinction, domestic de-extinction, personal whim, art, and novel forms of disease prevention. We then discuss the current regulatory framework and its possible limitations in those contexts. We end with questions about some deeper issues raised by the increased human control over life on earth offered by genome editing.'The Woolly-Mammoth in the Room: The Patentability of Animals Brought Back From Extinction Through Cloning and Genetic Engineering' by Miriam R. Swedlow in (2015) 11(3) Washington Journal of Law, Technology and Arts 185 comments
Advances and success in cloning and genetic engineering may mean passenger pigeons, dodos, gastric- brooding frogs, thylacines, woolly mammoths, and other extinct species will once again grace this planet. As de-extinction becomes a reality, it is uncertain whether these animals are patent eligible. Diamond v. Chakrabarty opened the door to cloning multicellular organisms. Since then, the U.S. Patent Office’s Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences has found “non-naturally occurring, man- made organisms including animals” to be patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Because the initial case challenging this decision failed on procedural grounds, the underlying legal issue has not been addressed in a federal court. Congress forbids patents directed at, or encompassing, human organisms, but has been silent with respect to animals. The Supreme Court holds that sections of naturally occurring DNA are not patent eligible, while non-naturally occurring synthetic strands are. But the Court has not considered organisms created from both naturally occurring and synthetic DNA, as would be the case in de-extinction. The Federal Circuit upheld a decision denying a patent for Dolly the cloned sheep, yet left room for successful patents of other cloned animals. The Federal Circuit’s distinction may lie between patenting the clone of an animal that already exists and patenting an animal that does not or no longer exists. In light of ever- changing science and technology, there are few clear boundaries of what organisms can or cannot be patented. Practitioners need to be aware of the boundaries and the gray areas in the existing law to navigate a path towards patentability of de-extinct species.'Going the Way of the Dodo: De-Extinction, Dualisms, and Reframing Conservation' by Alejandro E. Camacho in (2015) 92 Washington University Law Review 849 comments
De-extinction, a suite of selective breeding or biotechnological processes for reviving and releasing into the environment members or facsimiles of an extinct species, has been the subject of a recent surge of analysis in popular, scientific, and legal literature. Yet de-extinction raises more fundamental questions about the relationship between humans and nature and about the more and less useful ways that the law serves to navigate that relationship. Unfortunately, the endangered species, invasive species, and public land management laws likely to govern the revival and introduction of de-extinct species largely remain premised on an understanding of nature as static and easily divisible from human activity. In these contexts, the law habitually privileges and even actively promotes what it identifies as natural and native over the unnatural and exotic.
Through the example of de-extinction, this article illustrates the limitations of the law’s reliance on these crude dualisms. Currently, de- extinct species will often be obstructed as non-native and introduced (evenif they might promote ecological function in a particular area) and may be allowed or promoted in locations they used to exist (even if likely to cause ecological damage). De-extinction illustrates how policymakers need to reformulate natural resources law to be less dependent on these strict dualities. Instead, the article argues in favor of cautious risk assessment that acknowledges the dynamism of nature and humanity’s indivisibility from it.'De-extinction and precision conservation' by William M. Adams in (2016) Progress in Human Geography argues
Extinction has long been a central concern in biodiversity conservation. Today, de-extinction offers interesting possibilities of restoring charismatic species and ecosystem function, but also risks and costs. Most de-extinction depends on genetic engineering and synthetic biology. These technologies are also proposed for use in ‘gene tweaking’ in wild species to enhance their chance of survival. Within conservation, the resulting debates pit an optimistic world of high-tech ‘precision conservation’ against a more conventional vision of biodiversity conservation achieved primarily through protected areas. De-extinction is a fashionable idea that brings the complex debates about the ethics and wisdom of genetic engineering to a central position within conservation science.