Over thirty years ago, the DNA of a black-footed ferret was placed in the San Diego Zoo Global’s Frozen Zoo. After decades of advancements in biotechnology, scientists recently used that same DNA to clone a black-footed ferret: the first clone of an endangered species native to the United States. Through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, scientists replaced the genetic material of an egg with the nucleus of a black-footed ferret somatic cell and implanted the egg into a non-endangered, domestic ferret surrogate. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service intentionally selected the black-footed ferret with the hope of restoring its population and expanding genetic variation of the species (a significant impediment to the species’ viability); if the clones are able to reproduce, cloning could become an effective method to recover endangered species. Similarly, scientists are working to revive extinct species, such as the woolly mammoth, through a process known as “de-extinction,” theorizing that reintroducing certain species could provide ecological benefits amidst the effects of climate change. For example, some say reintroducing woolly mammoths into the Arctic might recompress permafrost and prevent the release of stored carbon. Despite the potential ecological benefits of using biotechnology to restore imperiled species, the practice of cloning species for conservation raises significant concerns regarding ecological stability, animal welfare, and the allocation of human resources. Currently, it is unclear whether existing U.S. laws provide sufficient oversight of this rapidly-developing intersection of conservation and biotechnology. Accordingly, this Article considers whether: (1) the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture can collaboratively regulate and assess the risks of cloning imperiled species under their current respective statutory authority; and (2) whether the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act extend to clones of species listed as endangered under the Act, as well as clones of extinct species.
Author: Lauren Corey
Volume 23, Issue 2