Monday, June 12, 2017

Resurrecting extinct species comes with legal issues

Modern biology has developed a number of technologies—stem cells, genome editing, and more—that have largely drawn attention due to their potential use in medicine. But these techniques also raise an exciting possibility: we might be able to bring species back from the dead. "De-extinction" raises the prospects of both taking whiteout to some of our species' careless past and recreating ecosystems that haven't been seen in thousands of years. De-extinction raises myriad ethical and environmental issues. But, according to a perspective in this week's issue of Science, legal issues are involved as well. And, complicating matters further, the legal issues that apply depend on precisely how we de-extinct a species. The precise method used actually makes a big difference for how the law views the result of any de-extinction attempt. For example, there are almost no restrictions on selective breeding, and the end product would face the same restrictions that the parent species would. If, however, the de-extincted animals were generated by genome editing, they'd qualify as genetically modified organisms in most jurisdictions. In the US, releasing a GMO into the wild requires an environmental impact assessment. A similar restriction exists in the EU, and local governments typically have even more stringent standards. It's also worth noting the GMOs can be patented. So, if you're hoping to make your own mammoth-like elephant, you may end up facing licensing fees. Things get even more complicated if the results of the breeding or engineering produce what's considered a new species. There'd be no way to start that species with anything more than a tiny population, which would almost certainly place it within the realm of conservation laws like the Endangered Species Act. The same is true for a species that's been resurrected through cloning. In fact, if the species had only died out recently, it may have already been declared an endangered species and be subject to a variety of regulations...more

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