Beth Shapiro talks “How to Clone a Mammoth” and more on Yale Environment 360

Shapiro_HowToCloneHow to Clone a Mammoth is drawing major attention from those in the science world and beyond, raising questions about de-extinction. Slate and The Nation turned to the book when discussing the science behind Jurassic World. Could we bring extinct animals back to life? Author Beth Shapiro recently sat down with Yale Environment 360 to talk about her new book, giving insight into the fact that she doesn’t know if the mammoth is what she would chose to clone!

 

 

e360: When you talk about ecological resurrection or restoration, let’s take the mammoth for instance, what does the mammoth do for us from an ecological perspective?

Shapiro: I don’t know, and I’m actually not sure that we really want to bring mammoths back. I think mammoths are a particularly problematic species because of the ethical challenges involved. If we were going to bring mammoths back we’re going to have to involve elephants in some way, at least the way the technology exists today. And we have very little idea of how to meet the physical and psychological needs of elephants when they’re living in captivity. Until we’ve figured out how to do that, we shouldn’t be having elephants in captivity at all, much less using them in hair-brained scientific creative experiments to bring back mammoths. Especially if we don’t really know what a compelling ecological reason to bring back mammoths might be.

So might we want to use de-extinction technologies to edit the genomes of elephants? Asian elephants are the closest living relatives of mammoths and these animals are endangered. What if we could use this same technology, in an ethical way, to engineer Asian elephants that were capable of living in colder climates? If we could do that then we could expand the range of potential habitat for Asian elephants, potentially biding our time so we could clean up the habitat where they belong to the extent we could figure out how to protect them there, and they could potentially be saved from extinction. These are the kinds of applications of this technology that I can see might be much more compelling than bringing back something like the passenger pigeon.

When we think about the passenger pigeon, one thing that one would need to do would be to show what role these animals played in the habitat when they were alive and that sufficient habitat exists, so that if we were to place them back in that habitat they would be able to survive. We would also need to be able to predict what interactions they’re going to have with other species that are also now fighting for a much smaller amount of habitat than when we had passenger pigeons around. This is the same kind of question we’ll need to ask for any candidate species for de-extinction.

Check out the rest of Shapiro‘s interview here.

 

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