Raising the Dead

Yesterday I suggested that the emergence of memetic replication transforms genetics into one species of meme among others. Genes are naturally limited in their replication strategy, in that they depend on the continuity of transmission. In other words, they must remain a living population in order to propagate, as their replication function depends on biological reproduction. Extinct animals cannot rise from the dead, at least not so long as genetic replication is limited to its biological conditions. Well, here’s proof that genes, once liberated from that condition, reveal themselves as just another meme:

Extinct animal cloned, resurrected

Richard Gray, London

August 3, 2009

The cloning of a wild goat has raised hopes for other species.

THE Pyrenean ibex, a form of wild mountain goat, was officially declared extinct in 2000 when the last known animal of its kind was found dead in northern Spain.

Shortly before its death, scientists preserved skin samples of the goat — a subspecies of the Spanish ibex that live in mountain ranges across the country — in liquid nitrogen.

Using DNA taken from these skin samples, the scientists were able to replace the genetic material in eggs from domestic goats, to clone a female Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo as they are known. It is the first time an extinct animal has been cloned.

The newborn ibex kid died shortly after birth due to physical defects in its lungs. Other cloned animals, including sheep, have been born with similar lung defects.

But the breakthrough has raised hopes that it will be possible to save endangered and newly extinct species by resurrecting them from frozen tissue.

It has also increased the possibility that it will one day be possible to reproduce long-dead species such as woolly mammoths and even dinosaurs

Whereas biological reproduction is limited to the continuous dissemination of replicators, technological reproduction – as the more general and unlimited class to which the biological belongs – has ready access to the machenome or resevoir of replicating morphisms, able to reach back into the machinic fossil record and ressurrect or exapt traits for renewed dissemination. See Kevin Kelly’s talk here for more on the discontinous evolution of the machinic phylum.

This loosening of the dependence of genes on biological reproduction will eventually make the notion of ‘endangered species’ irrelevant, for better or worse. It will no longer be species which disappear, as they can be ‘reborn’ whenever necessary, but the ecosystems that first mobilized and sustained them. This could have dangerous implications: capital could take this technology as a license to further externalize costs in the form of enviromental negligence, pollution, and exploitation, given that these consequences are no longer irreversible tragedies. Enviromental damage would even become a new site for investment in the coming enviromental reconstruction industry, creating a monstrous cycle in which one set of industries recklessly ruin their environment, while another rushes in to build a shiny-new private nature in its place.

Nonetheless, I think we need to keep Zizek’s point in mind – we can’t buy in to the dogma that ready-made nature or Nature 1.0 is inherently desireable or valuable, as compared to potential artificial natures. Take permaculture for example – it is possible to engineer ecosystems that can do better than traditional agriculture, and that are better suited to interacting with cultural and technological ecosystems. For more on this, check out this great lecture by Michael Pollan.

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2 Responses to Raising the Dead

  1. Pingback: Some Thoughts on The System of Nature and the Ethics of Survivalism « Complete Lies.

  2. himanshu damle says:

    This is the most unbelievable thing I have heard.
    full details could be had from this story on The Telegraph:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/4409958/Extinct-ibex-is-resurrected-by-cloning.html

    himanshu damle

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