An Ethical Analysis of Cloning for Genetic Rescue: Case study of the black-footed ferret
Fellowship alumni Lisa Moses, VMD, DACVIM discusses the ethics of cloning for genetic rescue by conservation practitioners.
Genetic rescue is a management tool used to decrease genetic load and increase fitness. The technique relies on the addition of unique genomes into a population's gene pool, but when no living candidates are available for translocation, preserved genetic resources may be an option. Biobanks are a source of cryopreserved material, including fibroblasts which have the potential to be used as source genetic material, but would require the use of cloning to create a living individual with the desired genome. An ethical analysis of this emerging technology in conservation is necessary to help determine when cloning is justified and to identify issues that need to be addressed in order that the management action is approached responsibly. We provide a framework for ethical analysis of conservation cloning for genetic rescue by considering the goals, means and desirability of conservation cloning. We then conduct a preliminary analysis of the use of conservation cloning for the genetic rescue of an endangered species, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), as a case study. The analysis generates several recommendations for moving toward ethically responsible introduction of cloning into black-footed ferret recovery efforts.