Artificial Reproduction and Species Preservation

Artificial Reproduction and Species Preservation

Extinction is a natural process. Over 99% of all species that ever existed on planet earth are now extinct. The problem, is that never before, has only one species been the cause for the death of so many others, and not in such a small space of time. As a result, potentially 50,000 species will go extinct in the next 30 - 50 years. The researchers and scientists behind The Frozen Ark are attempting the seemingly impossible; to find a cure for extinction.

The concept is fairly simple. The team want to collect the DNA samples from plant, fungi and animal tissue on the planet, particularly the endangered ones, and to freeze the DNA samples in liquid nitrogen so that we have effectively a DNA snapshot of life on the planet. This can then be used as technology advances as a last resort for preserving the natural beauty of the world. It is not quite clear how this will be done yet, but with controversial attempts to clone animals making headlines, the idea of reproducing a living creature from well preserved DNA is not unbelievable. So far, 48,000 samples of over 5,000 species have been collected and added to The Frozen Ark DNA banks, in conditions that can endure low or unreliable power supplies with a mind towards conservation of the project, as well as the planet.

The idea of preserving animal tissue and DNA is not particularly new, but The Frozen Ark is the first attempt that has really made progress on a worldwide scale. As the planet warms up and more species are threatening extinction, the pressure is growing, and unfortunately, as fast as the team can collect DNA samples to store in their banks, more species are being added to the list of impending extinction. It has not been decided yet exactly how the DNA will be used, but we do know that it can be potentially helpful if not vital to the future of our planet.

One of the problems that the team face is that the planet is undergoing a considerable amount of climate change, and even if a perfect clone of a species from a DNA sample were already possible, there is no guarantee that the clone would be able to survive against the climate it is introduced to as the climate is was existing in before was somewhat different. It is possible that the scientists will put less weight on collecting DNA samples from species that are unable to cope with climate change because of this reason, and to focus on the species they believe can better endure the shift.

Another similar problem that we face that is being tackled by scientists in The Netherlands is our booming meat consumption rates. Humans consume over 250,000 million tonnes of meat every year, and our demand for edible flesh is constantly growing. Livestock animals take a lot of food, space and resources to produce and maintain, and the idea of growing animals with the sole purpose of killing upsets a lot of people and quickly divides up the population into meat lovers, vegetarians and animal rights activists.

Scientists have found a way that they can potentially produce substitutes for meat in a laboratory. The technology exists to make edible meat from minuscule damaged muscle fibres extracted from a living organism, each cell of which can multiply roughly a million times. This is done by breaking apart the muscle fibres both physically and with the introduction of an enzyme and allowing the stem cells to reproduce the damaged muscle. A collagen gel is then added to align the cells into something that, scientifically speaking, resembles meat.

This means that we can produce edible meat without the need for killing animals, but the problem is that humankind has a craving for the particular tastes we have acquired, and the researchers are still trying to discover what gives meat it’s meaty flavour. The team wish to experiment by adding iron and fat into the mixture to see if it makes their artificially produced meat taste more like actual meat, and even have the goal to produce an artificially prepared burger that resembles the product on the market today. The challenges they face are the price of production, the controversial ideology, and then induction into a difficult market.