The Potential Reality of Cloning Extinct Species: Examining the Ethical Implications

05 June 2023

Jurassic Park, both the novel and its subsequent film adaptation, captivated audiences with its thrilling concept of cloning dinosaurs. While the story remains fictional, the idea of resurrecting extinct species through cloning has sparked curiosity and debate. This article explores the feasibility of cloning dinosaurs and other extinct creatures, drawing on the precedent set by the cloning of Dolly the sheep, and delves into the ethical implications such advancements would entail.

Cloning: Lessons from Dolly the Sheep

In 1996, scientists successfully cloned Dolly the sheep, marking a significant milestone in genetic engineering. Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). This breakthrough demonstrated that the DNA from a fully developed adult cell could be used to create a new individual. However, despite this achievement, the cloning of extinct species presents unique challenges.

The first hurdle in cloning extinct species lies in obtaining viable DNA samples. DNA degrades over time, making it difficult to extract intact genetic material from ancient fossils. In the case of dinosaurs, their extinction occurred millions of years ago, rendering DNA preservation virtually impossible. The chances of finding a complete, intact dinosaur DNA strand are extremely slim. As a result, scientists must explore alternative methods to obtain genetic material, such as extracting DNA fragments from well-preserved fossils or utilizing samples from closely related species.

dolly the sheep ethics of cloning
Dolly the sheep. What did she taste like?

For example, in 2013, a team of scientists extracted genetic material from a 700,000-year-old horse fossil and managed to reconstruct part of the genome. This achievement highlighted the possibility of obtaining ancient DNA from well-preserved specimens, offering a glimmer of hope for future cloning endeavors.

Additionally, even if scientists managed to obtain usable DNA, gaps and damage within the genetic sequence would necessitate filling these gaps with genetic material from closely related species. This introduces the possibility of creating a hybrid rather than an exact clone, further complicating the process. The concept of hybridization has been explored in real-life experiments, such as the case of the "Lazarus Project." In this project, researchers successfully implanted the nucleus of a Pyrenean ibex, an extinct subspecies of wild goat, into a domestic goat's egg. Although the cloned animal did not survive for long, it demonstrated the potential for genetic material from extinct species to be inserted into living organisms.

Ethical Implications of Cloning Extinct Species

While the concept of cloning extinct species may seem enticing, it raises profound ethical concerns. One primary issue is the disruption of ecosystems and the potential consequences of reintroducing these long-extinct animals into the modern world.

The environments in which these extinct species thrived have since evolved, with ecosystems adapting to the absence of these creatures. Reintroducing them could upset the balance established over millennia, affecting the survival of existing species and disrupting fragile ecosystems. For example, the cloning of a woolly mammoth, a long-extinct species, may have unintended consequences on the delicate Arctic ecosystems where they once roamed. The reintroduction of such a large herbivore could disrupt plant communities and potentially displace or outcompete other Arctic herbivores.

The potential ecological ramifications demand careful consideration and extensive research before proceeding with any cloning attempts. Scientists must weigh the potential benefits of resurrecting extinct species against the potential risks and ecological consequences.

Furthermore, there are ethical questions surrounding the welfare of the cloned animals themselves. Cloning technology often results in high failure rates, and many clones suffer from health issues and premature aging. Animal cloning has seen numerous cases of health problems, such as cardiac abnormalities, compromised immune systems, and shortened lifespans. Considering the ethical responsibility we hold towards living beings, it is crucial to assess whether it is justifiable to subject cloned animals to potential suffering and compromised quality of life.

For instance, the cloning of a Pyrenean ibex in the Lazarus Project mentioned earlier resulted in the cloned individual suffering from multiple lung defects, leading to its eventual death. This case highlights the ethical concerns surrounding the health and well-being of cloned animals and the need for careful consideration of their welfare in any cloning attempts.

Conservation Efforts and Ethical Alternatives

Rather than focusing on cloning extinct species, it is more ethical and practical to prioritize conservation efforts aimed at preserving endangered species and protecting biodiversity. These endeavors involve habitat restoration, captive breeding programs, and other scientifically supported methods that aim to safeguard species facing the threat of extinction.

Efforts can also be directed towards de-extinction, a concept related to cloning extinct species but with a different approach. De-extinction involves identifying species with close genetic relatives and using selective breeding and genetic manipulation to restore lost traits. For example, the case of the California condor showcases the success of conservation efforts, where through captive breeding and reintroduction programs, the population of these critically endangered birds has been significantly increased.

Although de-extinction raises its own set of ethical concerns, it provides an avenue to restore certain genetic diversity and ecological roles without the need for complete cloning. It offers a more focused and targeted approach to preserving biodiversity and ensuring the survival of endangered species.


While the cloning of extinct species, as depicted in Jurassic Park, remains firmly within the realm of science fiction, it is essential to critically assess the feasibility and ethical implications of such endeavors. The cloning of Dolly the sheep demonstrated the technical capabilities of somatic cell nuclear transfer, but the unique challenges posed by extinct species complicate the process significantly.

Moreover, the ethical implications of cloning extinct species involve potential ecological disruption and welfare concerns for the cloned animals themselves. Prioritizing conservation efforts and exploring alternative methods, such as de-extinction, offer more ethically sound paths towards preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species.

As science continues to advance, it is crucial to approach the concept of cloning extinct species with careful consideration, weighing the potential benefits against the ethical and ecological consequences. Balancing scientific progress, ecological responsibility, and ethical considerations will be essential in navigating the complex landscape of cloning extinct species.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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