“Remember there are people alive today who never thought that IVF would be a possibility,” she says.
“And when that did come on the table, it was extremely controversial, and yet look at how many healthy people there are in the world today, produced by such technology.” One day soon, we might say the same about the gastric brooding frog.
(In Canada, in the case of a modified mouse used in cancer research, the Supreme Court has ruled that a “higher life form is not patentable because it is not a “manufacture” or “composition of matter” within the meaning of “invention” in the Patent Act.) On the other hand, Wray also warns against being overly cautious, at the expense of progress.
Although Church’s thoughts on bringing back Neanderthals might sound like a leap too far, Wray compares the technological promise of de-extinction to in vitro fertilization.
Today, the gastric brooding frog is a prime target of the “Lazarus Project” of Michael Archer, a palaeontologist at University of New South Wales, who has injected its frozen DNA into the embryo of a related frog, hoping to create a hybrid.
Similar work is happening on the woolly mammoth, via the novel gene editing technique known as CRISPR, and on aurochs, the ancestor of modern cattle, as Canadian science journalist Britt Wray describes in her forthcoming book Rise of the Necrofauna.
“In no way can we ever undo the erasure of an entire way of life,” Wray writes.But she is “suspicious,” she says, of the moral imperative that some environmentalists say humans face, the obligation to bring back extinct species because we wiped them out in the first place.“If the only legs (that argument) has to stand on is that we’ve ripped this hole open in nature and now we have to fill it in because of some kind of moral responsibility, then why aren’t we looking at all sorts of other elements of ongoing ecological degradation and trying to rush to solve that,” she says.In ecology, likewise, Church argues that the common view of extinction as a final and irreversible process has led to “premature dismissal of dead and dying species.” A lot hangs on how literally you take this analogy.“If we are to take that literally,” Wray says, “that would mean right now we are lost in some kind of dark cavern, unable to see the potential for life to live at many levels.Should corporate interests guide de-extinction decisions? There are already plans in Europe to sell the meat of “revived aurochs,” along with their hides, horns and skulls, and even live animals for zoos.