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Bring In The Clones
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Bring In The Clones

Some researchers feel they have a way to put flesh back on this skeleton, but other researchers aren't so sure.

Hmmm, Not So Fast.

Our planet is currently going through rapid climate changes resulting in modified atmospheric, oceanic and temperature patterns. This situation coupled with the population growth of the planet's most dominant species (Homo sapiens) is putting tremendous strain on other species on the planet, resulting in population declines and increased fear of widespread extinctions. Given the intricate complexities of ecosystems and the interdependence of organisms, many people feel the loss of organisms and biodiversity will have negative impacts on Homo sapiens, both foreseen and unforeseen. So what to do? Well, with a situation this complex there are many positive things which could done to improve the situation, such as the cessation of burning fossil fuels to at least slow the rate of climate change. But what if it's not enough, and we lose organisms only to find our environment rapidly destabilizing? Is there any way to bring these animals or plants back once they are extinct? Well, plants are a little easier than animals because so many of them produce seeds which are meant to endure lean times, and in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was opened to safeguard the planet's botanical diversity particularly for food crops. But animals don't make seeds or lend themselves kindly to deep cold storage, so what to do about the animals? Some people think cloning may be a way to bring back extinct species and hedge our bets on what's going to happen to humankind in a world of declining biodiversity. Watch this clip to find out more about the cloning process before pondering if this is really a practical way to deal with declining biodiversity.

So researchers have moved beyond frogs to cloning mammals and have successfully cloned sheep, cows, pigs and mice, as well as a few not mentioned in the clip. Hmmm, does this seem like a likely way to bring back extinct animals? Could the secret to maintaining biodiversity be as simple as freezing animal cells to be used at a later period? If all you need is adult cells and a little manipulation? Think carefully about this question. List out all the things you would need to successfully clone an animal. Could all these items be obtained from extinct animals? Do you see any problems with using cloning as a way to maintain biodiversity? After answering these questions watch the following clip to find out more about plans to clone a mammoth.

So there you go from the mouth of an expert, the path to cloning a mammoth may be possible, but for right now, the path is still a bit overgrown. A key part of this process would be using a modern elephant as a surrogate mother, and the good news is that while no elephant has given birth to a mammoth, clones of endangered species have been produced using closely related species as surrogate mothers. You can find out more about this work at Cloning Noah's Ark.

So will extinct species ever be cloned? For now the answer is a definite maybe.

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. What is cell differentiation? Why did this phenomenon lead researchers to first try cloning with embryonic cells? Were researchers successful?
  2. Why is it significant that Dolly the cloned sheep was able to be inseminated naturally and give birth? How would producing sterile clones seriously limit the uses of cloning?
  3. Why are mummies actually bad candidates for cloning? Consider the conditions in a living cell first. What materials are important for cell functioning? What happens during the process of mummification? Can you imagine a situation where this process would not be damaging to a cell?
  4. What is the longest continuous piece of DNA that has been found from a mammoth? Where was it found? What problem does this create for recreating a mammoth genome?
  5. Why is knowledge of the specific reproductive system key information in trying to find appropriate surrogate mothers for endangered species? How does this create even more complications when working with rare, endangered species? What kinds of limitations do you think this will place on the use of cloning in maintaining biodiversity?

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