The ethics of de-extinction tested
As NPR reported in August 2022, Colossal Laboratories & Biosciences is working to de-extinctify the Tasmanian Tiger, gone to the world since 1936. Also known as the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) or the Tasmanian wolf, this animal had "trademark stripes and, rare in the animal world, abdominal pouches in both females and males. Australian researchers have called it "a dingo with a pouch" or "a dog with a pouch" — but its DNA also has a lot in common with the kangaroo." Colossal's perspective, "Prehistory has happened before. Bringing it back to life through bioscience hasn't," is neither new nor unique, and probably most familiar to the fans of the Jurassic Park franchise.
Give a listen to the NPR report for answers to the following questions. "Is the thylacine capable of living again? How would the animals be created? How would the thylacine affect Tasmania's habitat? When might the first embryo be created? Would the Tasmanian tiger ever be brought to mainland Australia? Sure, they could — but should they?"
This final question, the ethics of the science and the inquiry, has been asked about CRISPR cells, nanotechnology, and the use of genealogical data to solve crimes. Beth Shapiro of the University of California, Santa Cruz, offers these thoughts on the ethics of de-extinction, "Maybe we could use this technology to give those populations a little bit of a genetic booster shot and maybe a fighting a chance against the diseases that are killing them," she told NPR in 2017. "We're facing a crisis — a conservation, biodiversity crisis. This technology might be a powerful new weapon in our arsenal against what's happening today. I don't think we should dismiss it out of fear."
For a short essay and video about the colorization of images of the Tasmanian Tiger, click here.