A case for resurrecting lost species—review essay of Beth Shapiro’s, “How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction”

Biology and Philosophy 31 (5):747-759 (2016)
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The title of Beth Shapiro’s ‘How to Clone a Mammoth’ contains an implicature: it suggests that it is indeed possible to clone a mammoth, to bring extinct species back from the dead. But in fact Shapiro both denies this is possible, and denies there would be good reason to do it even if it were possible. The de-extinct ‘mammoths’ she speaks of are merely ecological proxies for mammoths—elephants re-engineered for cold-tolerance by the addition to their genomes of a few mammoth genes. Shapiro’s denial that genuine species de-extinction is possible is based on her assumption that resurrected organisms would need to be perfectly indistinguishable from the creatures that died out. In this article I use the example of an extinct New Zealand wattlebird, the huia, to argue—contra Shapiro—that there are compelling reasons to resurrect certain species if it can be done. I then argue—again, contra Shapiro—that synthetically created organisms needn’t be perfectly indistinguishable from their genetic forebears in order for species de-extinction to be successful.



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Douglas Ian Campbell
University of Canterbury

Citations of this work

Why Wake the Dead? Identity and De-extinction.Christopher Hunter Lean - 2020 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 33 (3):571-589.
Authenticity and Autonomy in De-Extinction.Christopher Hunter Lean - 2022 - Ethics, Policy and Environment 25 (2):116-120.

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Species: a history of the idea.John S. Wilkins - 2009 - Univ of California Pr.
The Ethics of De-Extinction.Shlomo Cohen - 2014 - NanoEthics 8 (2):165-178.

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