Many of you no doubt must have heard the story of Dolly the sheep – it was the world’s first cloned mammal, just in case that may have skipped your otherwise keen eye.
But that was back in 1996 and since then a wholesome of other animals have been cloned including cattle, cats, rats and pigs. Thanks to great advances in genetic engineering, scientists now know more than they did when they put Dolly together back then.
Now geneticists are pushing the boundaries of science beyond our wildest imagination, traversing territories never before ventured into and attempting feats of scientific exploration never before deemed possible.
Today, in the 21st century it seems, the debate is no longer about whether cloning is remotely possible but rather about who the next cloning candidate will be and when. The questions now being asked are no longer of a technical nature, they hinge on the ethics and moral of the act – whether it is acceptable in the eyes of society to start playing God.
As technology grows ever more advanced, the possibility of awakening prehistoric creatures from their ancient slumber draws ever more closer. Talk of the woolly mammoth or the Tasmanian Tiger living in our time once more is no longer the substance of science fiction – it is real and it is here.
The level of sophistication modern-day genetic engineering has reached was demonstrated recently when a team of Spanish and French scientists reversed time on July 30, 2003, by bringing back from extinction the Pyrenean ibex.
The Ibex, known also as bucardo, went extinct in 2000. It was a kind of wild goat with long, gently curved horns. The return of the bucardo triggered a chain reaction of bold steps in the scientific community that widely became known as de-extinction – the bringing back to life of extinct species.
Though the bucardo lived for only 7 minutes (some texts put it at 10 minutes), it nevertheless opened a plethora of new possibilities. Scientists are now tinkering with the idea of bring back other extinct animals like the great sabre tooth, or the Tyrannosaurus rex.
In March 2012, Russian and South Korean scientists were at it again. This time, the candidate for cloning was the ancestor of the present day elephant, the woolly mammoth. The woolly mammoth became extinct 3,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Can you imagine this 11 foot, 6 tonne giant walking in the colder regions of Mount Kenya National Park? He would certainly steal the show from the African elephant!
But the most spectacular of them all would be the attempt to awaken Neanderthal man after 33,000 years of uninterrupted sleep since he became extinct. A Professor George Church of the Harvard School of Medicine, himself a geneticist, believes bringing back Neanderthal from the dead is easy and possible.
According to him, all he needs is a woman volunteer to become the surrogate mother and the rest, as they say is history. Could it be possible that present-day genetic engineering technology can give birth to neo-Neanderthals?
How would it feel like living with them side by side, assuming we were to live in the same counties with them? Who would be the tourist between the 2? Would we elect them to office because they are old and ‘wise’?
It would really be interesting to go on a safari where among the wild game you come across would be gigantic herbivorous dinosaurs or the quagga, an extinct subspecies of the plains zebra. I would really love to catch a glimpse of the great sabre tooth as well or the Hyaenodon.
With the rate at which we are decimating our elephant populations, we may not even need to go that far back in time to look for possible cloning candidates because we may soon need to clone the African Elephant that is staring at extinction sooner than the 30 years scientists have given it!
Technologically, it appears now to be feasible, morally and ethically, many would argue against it – furthermore, many scientists involved in these explorations do admit that there is very little to go by and the few fragments of genetic material that exist for some of the old fossils are too old to be relied upon.
The lack of true surrogates within the exact same species is obviously a major challenge to the viability of such cloning. What about the looming danger of forming a deranged mutation because some part of a DNA was not mapped correctly – does that sound familiar?
One thing is certain – if we succeed in this de-extinction business, then we will soon also be reviewing our BIG FIVE Game list for sure! Would you jump at the opportunity of a prehistoric animal safari?