On The New York Times, Nathaniel Rich explains that "bringing extinct animals back to life is really happening," although the process "is even more complicated than it sounds."
Several months later, the National Geographic Society hosted a larger conference to debate the scientific and ethical questions raised by the prospect of de-extinction. Brand and Phelan invited 36 of the worlds leading genetic engineers and biologists, among them Stanley Temple, a founder of conservation biology; Oliver Ryder, director of the San Diego Zoos Frozen Zoo, which stockpiles frozen cells of endangered species; and Sergey Zimov, who has created an experimental preserve in Siberia called Pleistocene Park, which he hopes to populate with woolly mammoths.
To Brands idea that the pigeon project would provide beacon of hope for conservation, conference attendees added a number of ecological arguments in support of de-extinction. Just as the loss of a species decreases the richness of an ecosystem, the addition of new animals could achieve the opposite effect. The grazing habits of mammoths, for instance, might encourage the growth of a variety of grasses, which could help to protect the Arctic permafrost from melting a benefit with global significance, as the Arctic permafrost contains two to three times as much carbon as the worlds rain forests. Weve framed it in terms of conservation, Brand told me. Were bringing back the mammoth to restore the steppe in the Arctic. One or two mammoths is not a success. 100,000 mammoths is a success.
A less scientific, if more persuasive, argument was advanced by the ethicist Hank Greely and the law professor Jacob Sherkow, both of Stanford. De-extinction should be pursued, they argued in a paper published in Science, because it would be really cool. This may be the biggest attraction and possibly the biggest benefit of de-extinction. It would surely be very cool to see a living woolly mammoth.
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