The most famous extinct creatures are brought back thanks to genetic engineering by a Texas start-up. However, according to Tom Ough, the eventual reappearance of the woolly mammoth raises moral dilemmas. Which supermarket will be the first to stock some of them, in particular?
(Photo: Getty Images)
Endangered Woolly Mammoth
The last known woolly mammoth died around 3,900 years ago in mainland Siberia. Since then, humans have had contact with mammoths only through their skeletal remains and the frozen bodies of a few individuals that still contain some of their once shaggy fur. These remains have piqued our interest for centuries, a desire that may one day be fulfilled.
To save the species, the Texas start-up Colossal Biosciences uses genetic engineering. The firm claims that “the woolly mammoth was the guardian of a healthy earth”. Colossal would genetically modify Asian elephants, the species’ closest living relative, using salvaged mammoth DNA.
If his plans work, he’ll make a woolly mammoth in six years, or as close to a copy as possible. The company received $75 million from investors this year.
Also read: Can science bring back extinct species?
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A species that has never seen a large animal that it didn’t like the idea of eating can reconnect with humans some 3,906 years after they thought they last saw us. Although the end of the Ice Age greatly restricted the amount of their potential habitat, mankind contributed to their extinction.
However, some paleontologists argue that prehistory is littered with the remains of megafauna that we ate to extinction. Anyone featuring planet Earth in those days should have been on their toes with huge sloths, giant armadillos, and dire wolves.
We can also address the glaring question of whether or not we should eat them, given the apparent progress in mammoth reconstruction. This possibility was not addressed by Colossal, which instead focused on the environmental benefits of mammoth restoration: the animal’s heavy gait thickens the permafrost, or permanently frozen layer of soil, gravel and of sand below the Earth’s surface, preventing it from melting and emitting greenhouse gases.
However, there are concerns if people would be persuaded to taste it like their ancestors were. At some point we will have to choose whether or not we want to consume the woolly mammoth and any other species we choose to revive.
eat the giant
Director of Regenerative Food and Agriculture, Holly Whitelaw, says she would be willing to do so. Whitelaw said, “I would eat anything that’s been ethically grazed.”
Prowling animals, she says, are good for the soil because they spread seeds and microorganisms. The more grassland the arctic soil can support and the more carbon is extracted from the atmosphere, the better. As Whitelaw says, “It’s like bringing the wolves back. You’re improving the performance of the whole layer of the system again.”
Dr Herridge expressed more reservations about the origin of these mammoths in an interview with The Independent. She says: “I have a problem with everything related to surrogate mothers. Genetically modified mammoth fillings will cause serious discomfort and medical risks for Asian elephants during pregnancy.
These are about the business itself, not the idea of devouring mammoth meat after it. Dr. Herridge thinks it unlikely.
Feasibility and ethics
According to Whitelaw, pasture-raised mammoths are said to have a favorable ratio of omega:3 to omega:6 fatty acids, making them a healthy food option. Given this, it’s easy to imagine Paleo aficionados satisfying customer demand. But Dr. Herridge is once again doubtful. She says it’s “very difficult” to follow a diet that mimics an old way of life. “There is this insane notion that a lost Eden exists. Our conception of it is based purely on assumptions and preconceptions.
When asked about eating woolly mammoths, Tomasik replies, “Eating mammoths rather than smaller animals would reduce animal deaths even further. A woolly mammoth weighs about 10 times more than a beef cow.”
Related article: Animal Resurrection: Can a bioscience company bring an extinct woolly mammoth back to life?
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