Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cloning the past

Yesterday, I read an article about cloning a mammoth. According to the information available, this event is inevitable, as well as bringing other recently extinct species back to life. My question is, why?

Mammoths lived their time due to the specific environmental and evolutionary pieces in play beginning about 400,000 years ago. They became extinct about 3900 years ago. I’d call that a pretty good run of existence. But, their time has passed, for a variety of reasons…maybe even in part due to the rise of humans—see how long we’ve been in the extinction business?

Anyway, nature compensated with the elephant species living today, and I think we can all agree that they’re pretty fascinating too. So, although I love reading about ancient species, I can appreciate and value their time on earth without needing to recreate it. And, as stunned as I am by more recent, human-caused extinctions, the sad reality is that those species are gone. Bringing them back isn’t going to change the problems that led to their demise.

Ecosystems evolve over long, long periods of time, shaped by mutations, weather, disease, food supplies, migration, plate tectonics, and myriad other complicated, layered, environmental factors. Humans can wipe out or diminish an ecosystem virtually overnight…some gifts are a curse…

We scramble around trying to save pockets of ecosystems here and there, watching as gene pools dwindle and species disappear forever. Sometimes, we even try to play Mother Nature, adding nonnative plant and animal species into damaged ecosystems hoping to remedy our mistakes.

That doesn’t go over so well in most circumstances… There’s always some little part of the picture that we didn’t quite understand, and nonnative species often alter ecosystems drastically in directions we didn’t anticipate.

Nature takes thousands and thousands of years to shape ecosystems, why do we think we can do it overnight? Or, better yet, why do we think we should do it at all?

So, I guess my real question is this…why spend money, time, and energy bringing back the past, when we need to save the future? If we’re not there already, the “now or never” crossroads is coming at warp speed. We either make changes to the here and now, or nature will choose paths we don’t want to follow. And, human egos aside, I think we can all agree that nature will find a way to continue on…with or without us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great perspective, I think some scientists want to see the living breathng organism. I am with you. It is not there world anymore and we can study genes without bringing the organism back. Perhaps, soem desire to know how different the species is, can it reproduce with the modern elephant? Did modern man and the Neanderthal mate? Ahhhh..... Carly UT