This April, ACT scientists made the world's first healthy clone of an endangered species (banteng cows). Lanza argues that cloning is a powerful tool for saving endangered wildlife. Redford counters that cloning undercuts habitat-preservation efforts.
Popular Science: To clone or not to clone?
Lanza: Cloning is an insurance policy against extinction. Literally a hundred species become extinct every day. When a poacher kills an animal or it dies from infection, its genes are lost forever. By cloning you are able to rescue those genes. For instance, there are perhaps a thousand pandas left in the world. If you freeze cells from those pandas, you salvage the genes that will give the species a fighting chance to survive.
Redford: Given all of the problems facing the conservation world, the focus on this one tool of limited proven ability and limited potential utility seems odd.
Perhaps it is the powerful memory of the Frankenstein movies, the ongoing human love affair for things technological, the hope that somewhere, somehow, technology will be able to produce a deus ex machina solution to the seemingly hopeless crisis in which we find ourselves.
RL: Of course, habitat protection is—and should continue to be—the cornerstone of conservation. But it doesn't make a lot of sense to spend all that energy on habitat preservation if there are no animals left to preserve.
PS: Can you envision a scenario in which cloning might prove
pivotal in staving off extinction?
RL: Cloning could be pivotal when a species is reduced to a small number of individual creatures. For instance, quite a few years ago the last remaining bucardo mountain goats [in Spain] were rounded up for a captive breeding program. However, they were wiped out by disease. The species is now extinct but could have been saved if we'd had the cloning technology we have today.
KR: There are clearly cases in which cloning may prevent extinction. However, the problem is not just the extinction of a species but also of genetic diversity, ecosystems, ecological interactions and many other components of biodiversity. Why bring a species back if it has nowhere to live? To some a zoo might represent conservation; to me it represents museum storage. Animals should be running, swimming, flying through a natural world, being eaten by some things and eating others, if that is their way.