Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Should we clone endangered species?

Emma Marris @ The Last Word On Nothing blog asks the question. One major issue when it comes to synthetic life is are we really synthesizing all of organism, including our microbiotic gut dwelling partners?
Another problem that I’ve talked over with Wildlife Conservation Society Institute director Kent Redford is that animals are not ever really alone. Mammals like mammoths and humans host thriving, complex communities of microbes on their skins, in their mouths and, especially, in their guts. This “gut flora”, when behaving normally, doesn’t hurt us but helps us break down our food and train our immune systems. Disorders from asthma to eczema to allergies and even obesity have been linked to the number and kinds of microbes in our guts. There are ten times as many microbial cells as human cells in your body, and microbial genes outnumber human genes by at least 100 to one (See here). Animals and their microbiota are so tightly linked that some scientists think of them collectively as a kind of superorganism. Each species has its own suite of flora species that have adapted to it. When the mammoth went extinct, so, presumably, did all its little bugs. A cloned mammoth born vaginally from an elephant would likely end up with elephant microflora. One delivered by cesarean might have no bugs at all. What do we make of a mammoth superoganism if only one out 100 of its genes are authentic to the ecosystem that roamed the earth inside a hairy proboscidean skin 13,000 years ago?
H/T: Andrew Sullivan

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