There's no success like failure ...

Posted by Pete Shanks February 6, 2009
Biopolitical Times

An attempt to clone the recently-extinct Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo, resulted in a newborn kid that died within minutes because of breathing difficulties. Nevertheless, this was widely reported as a success, encouraging those who want to use cloning &/or genetic modification to save endangered species or revive extinct ones.

To this end, there are several tissue banks, with names such as "Frozen Zoo" and "Frozen Ark". Clearly there is value in these storage facilities, but they may be better suited to analysis than re-creation. Many other attempts have already been made or seriously discussed to clone or recreate extinct, endangered, threatened or simply vulnerable species:

  • Tasmanian tiger (extinct) -- discussions underway since 2002
  • Tasmanian devil (endangered) -- discussions continue
  • mammoth (extinct) -- genome largely sequenced, cloning speculation; previous attempts by Hwang Woo-Suk & (separately) a Japanese team failed
  • Neanderthal (extinct) -- speculation, genome reconstruction underway
  • Scottish wildcat (endangered) -- DNA being analyzed
  • African wildcat (threatened) -- cloned with a domestic cat surrogate, 2003
  • Asiatic cheetah (extinct in India) -- discussed in 2005
  • banteng (endangered Asian cattle) -- two cloned in 2003, but one was grossly malformed; that was not in the original report, which claimed: "They're both vigorous and healthy -- they look like little Bambis with their big brown eyes and ears."
  • mouflon lamb (endangered) -- cloned in 2001
  • gaur (vulnerable) -- 2001 clone died two days after birth

Other species discussed for cloning include the giant panda, the African bongo antelope, the Sumatran tiger, the pygmy hippo and the northern white rhino. The New Scientist recently added to the list the saber-toothed tiger, the short-faced bear, the woolly rhinoceros, the dodo, the giant ground sloth, the moa, the Irish elk, the giant beaver, and even the gorilla.

This looks more like a record of obsessive technophilia than a strategy for conservation. And it would certainly be useful if journalists would recognize that failure's no success at all.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: