Have you ever heard about the term ‘cloning’? Cloning is a scientific method that scientists can use to produce the same exact copy (genetically) of an organism, or just a little part of that organism for any purpose.
One of the simplest examples of cloning is propagating a plant, because the end result is the same exact plant genetically. However, of course there are a lot other cloning methods more complicated than propagating a plant.
For example, many researchers are now studying about how to clone an extinct species using only remains of their cells. There are several problems that they have to face in this quest. And the first question is, is it even possible to revive a dead animal?
Let’s talk more about cloning a dead animal, how it may or may not help us to protect the endangered ones and revive extinct species.
The Roadkill Experience
Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp. (Embrapa) worked together with Brasilia Zoological Garden in 2009 to try an impossible mission. Most of it was done around Cerrado savana where more than 10,000 plants species and 800 bird species live.
They tried to gather remaining pieces of roadkill such as blood, sperm, and umbilical cord as much as possible, and stored them in a safe place. The reason for that is to store the genetic information of the endangered wildlife in Brazil.
Fast forward to 13 years later, the researchers are now working on the next chapter of this mission: using the collected body parts to improve the chance of success for cloning process. And while this may not sound like extravagant research, but it may lead to huge success for future cloning.
Of course, it means that the research is not at the final stage, and instead just another chapter of a bigger mission. The final mission is to bring back to life extinct species, just like what is shown in Jurassic Park movie.
Yes, we are one step closer to witness dinosaur roaming on this planet once more time. But before we can really witness those gigantic lizards chasing people around like in the movie, we need to see how far are we from the final mission yet.
The Problem in Cloning
As mentioned above, the researchers in Brazil used the collected body parts ‘only’ to increase the chance of success for cloning. This is the first problem we need to address. Truth be told, the chance of success as for today is not that high.
Today, the chance of success is only below 5% for familiar animal species. Animals such as cats and dogs have the privilege to reach that number, but some more exotic pets have far less than that number to begin with.
As for wild animals, the number is even lower. Researchers said that the chance for wild animals to be cloned is less than 1%. In other words, from 100 cloning efforts we cannot be sure to get even just one of them to stay alive as well and prosper as the original.
Furthermore, cloning is not an easy process because it requires at least three components which are essential. First is the DNA of the cloned species that works as the blueprint of what’s going to be cloned. The second thing is egg that can receive the DNA, and it needs to be almost similar to the egg of the original species.
The third is a ‘mother’ to gestate the embryo, because without a mother the fertilized egg is not going to grow properly. While all of them seem easy to obtain, but to get make it succeed we need the components that have the highest chance to succeed. It is like finding the exact piece of broken glass in the middle of the ocean.
The Problem with Cloning
Talking further about cloning, we need to also mention the controversy around it. Even though cloning a species sounds like a good idea, especially when what’s cloned has emotional value such as human being.
Some say that cloning a human being means we are defying god’s plans. It shows how we ‘can create’ a fully functional person unnaturally, in terms giving birth to a child is the only natural way we may ‘produce’ a human being.
Now, what if we clone an extinct species? We believe that many would support the initiative, but we need to pay attention to factors that can cause problems to us. One of the examples is the revival of ancient plague following the revival of the extinct animal, and the second example is a chaos in the natural food chains.
What if the Tyrannosaurus we revive bring the ancient version of coronavirus? In addition to that, what should we feed the giant reptile if it can eat a whole elephant in just a day? Bringing a Tyrannosaurus back to life sounds cool, but we should also deal with those problems.
Repeating the Extinction Process
Martha Gomez is a researcher at Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans. She has successfully cloned several African wild cats using surrogate mother, and most of them showed good signs of surviving into adulthood.
However, still she doesn’t think that what she has done is the best effort we can do to save endangered species. The reason is because it is not an easy job to do, and we have many other ways to save endangered species if we really want to.
Another reason for that is because the research is lacking pace to catch up with the rate of decline in species. “I’m not saying cloning is going to save endangered species. But I am still a believer of cloning as another tool. It’s not easy, though. The research moves slow,” she said.
The easiest way is actually letting them live as they are without any disturbance from us. Our presence is way more impactful than we ever thought, and if we cannot actively support them, we just better off let them be.
To clone an endangered species, or even an extinct one, and keep on hurting them is not the solution. First, we need to be able to ensure their (and our) safety.