Friday, November 23, 2012

Is cloning the next step in conservation?

Brazil is the latest country to publicise its plans for the cloning and hybridization of endangered species. For the past two years, researchers have been gathering somatic cells and spermatozoa from eight threatened species. The final step in this ‘conservation effort’ is to gain permission from the government in order to conduct their experiments.
The research agency does have cloning experience, as it has been conducting experiments on livestock such as cows and horses since 2001.  Therefore, a change in focus towards cloning endangered animals seems the next most logical and practical use for this research.
However, conservationists criticise this technique of cloning endangered species, stating that it generates a market demand for rarer species and distracts people from the underlying cause of the biodiversity crisis – habitat destruction.  Furthermore, cloned, hybridized and captive-bred animals have little or no genetic value and could potentially weaken wild populations if they are mixed.
However, the goal of the Brazilian research agency is to increase the number of rare captive species rather than replenish wild populations.
"The cloning is specifically for zoos. We don't want it to become a conservation technique," Carlos Frederico Martins, a researcher with Embrapa, told the Guardian. "The idea is to test cloning technology so the zoo has its own repository of animals, which will avoid the need to take species from their natural habitat."

I find the use of cloning for conservation difficult to understand. It seems to be of very little advantage, if the cloning of an animal weakens its genome and potentially threatens the wild population if ever allowed to breed freely, is there any use for it in conservation? Finally, using cloning as a method for increasing a captive population seems extremely unethical, as it would be for purely human benefit.

No comments: