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Making de-extinction mundane?

Friese, Carrie ORCID: 0000-0001-7144-8046 and Marris, Claire (2014) Making de-extinction mundane? PLoS Biology, 12 (3). e1001825. ISSN 1545-7885

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Identification Number: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001825


This Perspective is part of the Public Engagement in Science series. --- The use of new technologies to bring back extinct species has recently become a topic widely discussed in the media, partly as the result of a TEDx programme on de-extinction [1] at the National Geographic Headquarters, timed to coincide with a National Geographic cover story in April 2013. Two weeks earlier, Stuart Brand, a key proponent of de-extinction, gave his own TED talk [2]. These public events were followed by high-profile conferences at Cambridge (UK) and Stanford Universities [3],[4]. These events have begun to shape the contours of ‘de-extinction,’ by defining the relevant techniques (cloning, genome editing, back breeding, stem cell manipulation) and also the actors that can legitimately participate. Thus, de-extinction is currently crystalizing into a field that includes not only bioscientists but also, to varying degrees, the popular press, bioethicists, conservationists, and scientists from other fields (for example, synthetic biologists). De-extinction has raised a number of ethical and political questions: Will it divert resources from other tried-and-tested measures for conservation? Will the resurrected animals be classified as members of the extinct species? Are conservationists too pessimistic and sceptical about cutting-edge science to embrace its potential? How will we ethically care for the animals used in and produced by these techniques? Are there hidden commercial interests at stake? What is striking, from our perspective, is that many of these debates have been held before: the tropes regarding de-extinction are remarkably similar to those used in debates regarding cloning endangered animals. In this paper, we explore the relevance of previous debates and argue that important insights can be gleaned from them as de-extinction moves forward, and that there is another set of questions that has not yet been adequately addressed. In line with the arguments of Marris and Rose [5] in the opening editorial for this series “Opening Engagement: Exploring Public Participation in the Biosciences,” we examine how, in the field of cloning endangered animals, the concerns of conservationists have in some cases been the basis for reformulating scientific practices in a way that can be interpreted as a form of ‘upstream’ public engagement. We argue that de-extinction could learn valuable lessons from these earlier projects regarding how to incorporate contributions from various publics; and demonstrate what a sociological approach can add to the exploration of these questions, in ways that traditional bioethics and ELSI (Ethical, Legal and Social Implications) approaches cannot.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2014 The Authors
Divisions: Sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Q Science > QH Natural history
Q Science > QL Zoology
Date Deposited: 25 Apr 2014 11:38
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2024 19:15
Projects: EP/G036004/1
Funders: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

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