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Biotech Earth Science

Using Stem Cells to Save Endangered Species 73

Posted by samzenpus
from the stick-around-for-a-while dept.
RogerRoast writes "Starting with normal skin cells, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have produced the first stem cells from endangered species. Such cells could eventually make it possible to improve reproduction and genetic diversity for some species, possibly saving them from extinction, or to bolster the health of endangered animals in captivity. The study was published in the recent issue of Nature Methods."
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Using Stem Cells to Save Endangered Species

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  • good idea and (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    wouldn't it be easier to stop the killing of the ones in the wild first?

    • Actually no, it's easier to make stem cells. That's why they take the trouble...

      • Re:good idea and (Score:5, Informative)

        by Fluffeh (1273756) on Monday September 05, 2011 @01:25AM (#37306528)

        Actually no, it's easier to make stem cells. That's why they take the trouble...

        The catch here is this: It is easier to SAY to stop killing them, but it's certainly not as easy to get them to stop being killed.

        There is a vast number of reasons:

            * The animals could be being poached - African Elephants, Rhinos, Lions etc?
            * There may be an introduced predator doing the killing - Cane Toads in Australia for example.
            * There could be some disease running rampant through the natural animal population - Tasmanian Devils in Australia are being wiped out by a cancerous growth on their snouts.

        For the folks doing this research and development, it is not only easier for them to make stem cells, but it is the thing that they can do personally. A scientist working in a lab may not be able to suddenly pick up a gun and go protecting wildlife in another country - but he might be able to help save some through his medical research.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          * There could be some disease running rampant through the natural animal population - Tasmanian Devils in Australia are being wiped out by a cancerous growth on their snouts.

          Correct [wikipedia.org].

        • by Antarius (542615)
          And there's some species (eg. Panda) that appear to not like sex that much.

          And others like the Cheetah that have been interbreeding too long, so that there's not enough genetic diversification.
        • Re:good idea and (Score:4, Interesting)

          by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Monday September 05, 2011 @04:25AM (#37307060) Journal

          You forgot the fourth and probably biggest reason, which is starving humans eating them to survive just look up "bushmeat" and see for yourself. the really sad part is part of the reason those people are starving is just like blood diamonds we pay warlords for the minerals to make our cell phones and help to keep the wars there going.

          Basically that whole damned area is a mess and unless we in the west just want to roll the tanks and try another hand at nation building (which never seems to work out) I doubt it'll be getting better there any time soon. Most likely the only examples of animals from the congo area and other third world hellholes 50 years from now will be in zoos if we are lucky, museums if we are not.

    • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Monday September 05, 2011 @01:10AM (#37306484)

      In a perfect world, yes, but try explaining that to poachers, or to people demanding more land for living, farming, ect.

  • by mentil (1748130) on Monday September 05, 2011 @01:53AM (#37306594)

    I'm sick of us jumping in every time a species is about to die out. Too cute to fail? I say let them go extinct. The ones that survive who looked to the future instead of eating all the grass in the field this quarter are doing what's morally right, and will lead to a stronger society.
    Before you know it, the lazy lower-class animals will be living in human-provided housing, with food handouts and arranged marriages, and the predation the superior specimens take part in will be outsourced to the hunters!

    • I get that this is likely satire but the fact that many feel rather similar to this position, really just makes this sad rather than humorous. I'm sure without more intense intervention we will continue into a steady collapse of local ecosystems followed by more wide spread collapse until the human population is no longer sustainable and begins to fade out as well. The planet will likely bounce back into an even more lush and diverse planet than before and so goes it until the Sun will engulf our former gl

    • The ones that survive who looked to the future instead of eating all the grass in the field this quarter

      I'm not entirely certain if you're just trying to be funny, but I'll say this just-in-case (I actually know people who really do think like that): most of the time it's us, the humans, who cause a species to go extinct, not the species itself.

      • by louic (1841824)

        (...) most of the time it's us, the humans, who cause a species to go extinct, not the species itself.

        But it IS the species itself in that case, because it did not adapt to our presence and our behavior. Which is perfectly fine. Who ever got the idea that we are "better" or "higher" than nature, and that it is therefore up to us to decide which species get extinct and which ones don't? It is all part of nature, and we are nature as much as any other animal. We will probably kill ourselves because of that, and that will be the best thing that ever happened on this planet. Of course, that whole stem-cell spe

    • Arranged marriages? You monster!
  • by cowtamer (311087) on Monday September 05, 2011 @02:20AM (#37306660) Journal

    While I fully support what the scientists in the TFA are trying to do, I believe there is a danger that the sophomoric intellegentsia here (on /. that is) will see the headline and think "see, technology can solve the extinction problem, no need to worry" and go on to merrily support misguided and unsustainable policies.

    Species extinction, ecosystem loss, and general loss of biodiversity are not a bad source code commits that you can simply roll back with enough technology.

    • by garcia (6573)

      While I don't think we should end species extinction, regardless of our possible involvement in it occurring, I don't see why the attempts cannot be made to better understand how stem cells can be used for other uses.

      Consider it testing on animals while keeping the anti-testing radicals at bay.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      I would say that Slashdot has a much higher rate of discussion on the only real solution. Population control. Everywhere else I hear the discussion of global ecology, the discussions are 100% of the time about how to put off our over population problem for a few more years. I know that population control is an ugly subject. It is ugly even if your answer is to not do control, but it is unfortunately THE answer and THE subject that 'environmentalists' don't want to talk about.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday September 05, 2011 @02:28AM (#37306682)

    But the next thing you know, you've got a theme park full of velociraptors hunting down the park's patrons.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      What's with the "but?"

      Sounds awesome. If they can't pull it off in real life yet, they should make a movie.

    • I'm still waiting for my pet velociraptor. How am I to defend myself against the zombie hordes without velociraptors?!
    • by Kittenman (971447)

      But the next thing you know, you've got a theme park full of velociraptors hunting down the park's patrons.

      As long as they eat Richard Attenborough first, I'm OK with that.

  • by vadim_t (324782) on Monday September 05, 2011 @02:43AM (#37306726) Homepage

    Here's a radical idea I heard about: let's domesticate everything remotely domesticable. After all, cats and dogs aren't going to go extinct any time soon. I'm pretty sure that quite a few species like red pandas could make very viable pets. In fact they're probably endangered by their protection status. Who wouldn't want to have something this cute [novolitika.ru]? Allow people to keep them, and they'll get bred like rabbits. Videos like this one [youtube.com] suggest that they'd make pretty fun pets.

    For breeds that are too large, breed them down to a manageable size (if we can make a chihuahua surely we can make a dog sized tiger).

    Experiments with foxes [wikipedia.org] seem to show that domestication is quite possible in a reasonable amount of time, and research shows that only 40 genes [cell.com] seem to be responsible for the domestication.

    So, here's the idea: domesticate everything, study what changed in the genetics, and if the wild population decays too much, use the genetics research to reverse the domestication, while drawing from the abundant pet population.

    I think that this might be the better solution long term, as maintaining habitats and populations is a never ending struggle, while that is never a problem for any species people have an use for.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      For breeds that are too large, breed them down to a manageable size (if we can make a chihuahua surely we can make a dog sized tiger).

      The dog sized tiger has been done [wikipedia.org] already

      • by vadim_t (324782)

        Er, no. Cats and tigers are very distantly related. Cats were domesticated at their current size, nobody was breeding tigers down to a manageable shape.

    • Congratulations on your fine idea, which basically is about preserving wildlife by turning it into something else. As a token of my appreciation I will send you 40 domesticated skunks.
      • by vadim_t (324782)

        That's precisely the idea, yes.

        A domesticated skunk might not be exactly the same thing as the wild version, but it's pretty darn close. And if the wild ones go extinct, it should be quite easy to recreate the wild population starting from the domesticated one. Cats and dogs are managing that just fine without any extra help, even.

    • I'm pretty sure that quite a few species like red pandas could make very viable pets. In fact they're probably endangered by their protection status.

      Quite a few? There are 8.7 million species. You name three species. That's not quite a few, that's barely anything. Maybe red pandas would work, tigers -possibly- though I can't really see a use for that (if my housecat were the size of a pony, I'd be dead when he got too playful). Domestication is not easy just because foxes did it. There was a big economic interest there.

      We won't be able to domesticate giant pandas, we can barely get them to breed in captivity.

      Orcas seem like an extreme long

  • why not? (Score:2, Funny)

    by madmayr (1969930)
    why not just store their genetic information in a big 'noah's ark' database let the extinction just happen, see if a creature was really needed for the ecosystem and if yes, revive it
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because we can't?

      He haven't even recreated/cloned a mammoth, and in that case we have both genetic material and elephants that could be used as surrogate mothers.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is just a gimmick to make the public feel better about the loss of wildlife and wild places. The human population is set to double over the next thirty years (it has already doubled in my lifetime) and no politician seems willing to broach the subject.

    Of course species will become extinct. It is entirely predictable. We are trashing the forest and bush where they would have lived.

    • If it makes you feel any better, any time you hear about improving women's rights in impoverished countries, that's bringing population growth under control.

  • Are we supposed to save all of the species or just the cute furry ones that provoke empathy? On the other hand we are keeping cattle population for example at a naturally unsustainable level.

    Massive amount of creepy insects and other strange and maybe extremely poisonous creatures are probably also on the brink of extinction. The ecological niches are not indefinite. The natural course is that species come and go. The humanity has sped up the process immensely too, and many can't adapt... If we try to save

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Are we supposed to save all of the species or just the cute furry ones that provoke empathy?

      Every time I've seen someone mention pandas or saving furry ones on /. for the years I've been reading has run to this argument. It's flawed not because they are furry but because *gasp* even furry and cute animals have the possibility of providing novel solutions.

      Case and point was with the panda itself in a recent /. article [slashdot.org] from a few days back. The headline is misleading but if you read TFA you understand that we learned about some cool bacteria while we were busy finding them cute and cuddly.

      AC

      • The headline is misleading but if you read TFA you understand that we learned about some cool bacteria while we were busy finding them cute and cuddly.

        AC

        That's not terribly relevant to his point. His point is that we a) can't save every species, and b) probably shouldn't save every species. Human beings are a species just like every other animal. We have adapted extremely well, which is why we're the controlling (if not exactly dominant) lifeform on the planet. We should do what we can to make sure we can still survive (which might mean trying to keep some species from going extinct), but the idea that we should drastically impact our own survival to sav

        • by jovius (974690)

          That's not terribly relevant to his point. His point is that we a) can't save every species, and b) probably shouldn't save every species.

          The real question is why the some species are endangered and some die en masse. Can we do anything to the fundamental reasons or do we end up having a zoo of resurrected species ot species that can't survive, an ark sort of. That would be beautiful and tragic at the same time, a sort of testament to what we can do - in every sense. The truth is that many species are dying, and there's nothing unnatural about it. The Earth's resources are limited, and an extinction is a natural consequence to the resources r

  • According to one notable ethologist [wikipedia.org], 99% of all the phenotypes ever produced by DNA sequences are extinct, with the current surviving phenotypes exquisitely adapted via natural selection to the current environment. Are we seeing a paradigm shift in natural selection? DNA is certainly capable of directed selection, as famously pointed out by another notable ethologist; [wikipedia.org]DNA now seems to be able to alter natural selection ex post facto. If true, it is a fucking stunning achievement for DNA.
  • endangered species are mostly endangered by habitat destruction. you cannot have forest panther without the forest. you cant have a desert elephant without the desert. you cant have a polar bear without the polar. saving a single animal's DNA is just moronic.

    • by CesiumFrog (41314)

      TFA is about northern white rhinos, which are critically endangered by heavy poaching.

      So actually for some species, human-caused extinction could be avoided simply by such artificial reproduction techniques. In fact this may be the only way, since there are now so few of these rhinos left that we don't have time to try more experiments to find out how to encourage breeding. (We certainly can't figure it out by observing wild populations, since we've poached those to extinction already.)

      Also, if we had a tec

  • Stopping extinctions isn't about being nice, it's about keeping the world livable. Nature doesn't die out it just adapts to the environment. If regular animals can't survive they will mutate/evolve into monsters that can, or develop intelligence so they can build weapons and take back the wilderness by force.

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