I read a story today about a tech and software entrepreneur who provided $15 million in funding for a project to bring back the wooly mammoth. Harvard University professor George Church who is known for his pioneering work in genome sequencing is leading the effort to bring back the extinct mammoth by using a gene-splicing technique to splice DNA from frozen mammoths into the DNA of Asian elephants. The project leaders and others think that bringing back the mammoth could help in the fight to combat climate change. As one person noted, “if they decide to open a theme park, I know how this story ends.”
Humans are amazing in their curiosity and persistence to achieve that which has never been done before. Many advances have occurred and continue to occur because of these traits but one has to wonder about unintended consequences. But before even getting there, I chuckled at the climate change reasoning. It sounds like something one of my kids would say to try to get what they want. “Dad, if I eat candy every day, it will help the climate.” The idea for countering climate change is that the mammoths once scraped the snow in Siberia which allowed cold air to reach the permafrost and keep it frozen. Without the mammoths, snow accumulated, and the permafrost warmed releasing greenhouse gasses and impacting the climate. Are we really sure we know exactly what those extinct mammoths did and can conclude that newly designed mammoths will have that same behavior as the mammoths from 10,000 years ago? Also, has anyone asked the people who live in Siberia about bringing back 15-ton mammoths to live in their neighborhood? We aren’t even allowed to have chickens in Arlington.
Back to unintended consequences, the infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar, imported four hippos, among other exotic animals, to keep on his property in Colombia. Many of those animals were relocated to zoos but the hippos decided that they needed more adventure. Now, there are at least 80 hippos roaming around Colombia wreaking havoc. Researchers noted, channeling Captain Obvious, that hippos are difficult to catch and dangerous to confront.
Let’s hope those in charge of the wooly mammoth project consider not just the short-term excitement of bringing back a species but the longer term impacts, including unintended consequences.
This week’s selection is:
The Chair (on Netflix)
Sandra Oh stars as the first woman of color to become chair at a major university and tries to meet the incredible demands and high expectations within a failing English department.