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CONTINUATION OF SPECIES:

CLONING TO SAVE ENDANGERED AND EXTINCT ANIMALS

Malka Weil

The Torah commands us to send away the mother bird the mother to the offspring. In this cloning procedure, the
before taking her young (Leviticus 22:28). Ramban, a medi- mitochondrial DNA was from the donor of the enucleated
eval biblical commentator, explains that the reason for this egg, rather than from the adult sheep who donated the dip-
commandment is to ensure the continuation of the species. If loid nucleus. So even though the vast majority of the DNA
mother and child are killed on the same day, there would be passed onto the clone was from the nuclear donor, the mito-
no-one left to live and reproduce and thus the entire family chondrial DNA was from the enucleated egg donor, there-
would become extinct. fore Dolly was a close but not perfect genetic copy of the
In the world today, our environment has been largely original sheep [2].
affected by humanity. Humans have been responsible for re-
ducing natural habitats by developing land for industry and
DOES HALACHA (JEWISH LAW)
depleting the supply of natural resources, processes which
have driven many species of animals to become endangered PERMIT CLONING ANIMALS TO
and extinct. Through breeding programs and attempts to pro-
SAVE ENDANGERED AND EXTINCT
tect the dwindling habitat, zoos and other organizations have
been working to conserve these animals from disappearing SPECIES?
permanently. A new form of biotechnology was created in
the past two decades that could be another strategy to save This method has been further tested and successful clones
these endangered species, and even possibly bring back the of mice, sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, and a housecat have been
extinct ones; a process called cloning. created. In 2001, a clone of a guar, an endangered cattle-like
Cloning was first proved successful in 1997 when the species, was born [3]. A report in 2009 noted the cloning
lamb Dolly was born. She was created using the nucleus of an extinct subspecies of the wild goat, called a bucardo
from a single epithelial cell of an adult sheep. In this pro- (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica), which died moments after its
cess, an epithelial cell from an adult sheep was electrically birth from lung failure [4]. Although the successes are rare,
fused with an enucleated egg obtained from a similar species and much work and finances have gone into these endeavors,
of sheep. This egg, now containing a diploid nucleus, be- with future research and practice, cloning can become a way
haved as a zygote, undergoing mitotic divisions to develop to save endangered species and bring back extinct ones.
into a preembryo, which was then implanted into a surro- Does halacha (Jewish law) permit cloning animals to
gate mother. This surrogate mother eventually gave birth to save endangered and extinct species? From an examination
a lamb which was a genetic copy of the adult sheep that pro- of the commandment shiluach hakan, the sending away of
vided the diploid nucleus [1]. the mother bird before taking its young, it would seem that
Since Dolly, there has been much research conducted that Torah is most positively in favor of the continuation of
in the field of cloning. A difficulty encountered was that the the various species and would endorse the use of biotech-
adult genetic material used to produce the clone was already nology to save endangered and extinct animals. Further-
aged, so the offspring contained “aged” adult genes, which more, in the Tiferet Yisrael (Yadayim 4:3) it states that if
potentially could shorten the life of the clone. Also, even something is not prohibited explicitly in the Torah, then it is
though the nuclear DNA of a clone is identical to the DNA permitted. Nowhere in the Torah is there a mention or hint
of the nucleus donor, cells also contain DNA in their mi- of cloning, therefore, presumably it would be allowed. Ad-
tochondria. Mitochondrial DNA is typically passed from ditionally, Ramban explains the passage, “umilu et haaretz

44 DERECH HATEVA
vekivshuha,” i.e., “to fill the world and conquer it” (Genesis would be if a clone was kosher for eating.
1:28) as a commandment given to Adam, the first human That question, however, does not pose a problem to the
being, to use the powers of science that God has granted hu- issue of cloning endangered species of animals. The purpose
mans to develop the world. Accordingly, cloning is a power- of cloning such animals is to allow them to repopulate, not to
ful scientific force for humans to explore and to control with eat them. The main issues facing the cloning of endangered
judgment. and extinct species are (a) whether cloning is permissible
On the other hand, there is a concept of “derech hateva,” according to halacha and (b) whether the animal would be
i.e., “the natural course.” It is the rationale for the prohibition still considered one of its species (because its mitochondrial
of practicing magic and of mixing different species (Sefer DNA is from another species) and therefore valuable to the
Hachinuch law 62 and 244). With His infinite wisdom, God conservation efforts. There is no clear answer yet, because
created the world to run its natural course. Therefore, clon- cloning is still in its experimental stages and the chances of
ing may be prohibited because it interferes with the natural developing a healthy clone are slim. With further experi-
way of the world. The majority of the issues that come up in mentation, this question will have to be addressed. From the
discussions of cloning by modern day rabbis are questions available sources, it appears that most halachic authorities
about the status of the clone. Questions include, who is the would be in favor of cloning endangered and extinct species.
father or mother? What status does the baby have in its place As far as the concept of derech hateva goes, it could be ar-
in the nation of Israel, which includes issues of honoring gued that extinction is not the natural course of the world ei-
parents, tribal status, and deciphering which mitzvot (com- ther, but was caused by humans hunting and the destruction
mandments) are obligatory. Other issues include whether of natural habitats. Cloning the animals to save them would
the clone would even be considered a living human being, actually restore the natural “derech hateva” that was jeopar-
because although it is a living, breathing creature, it was cre- dized. Although there are no conclusive answers to the ques-
ated in a laboratory [2]. All such discussions center around tion of animal cloning, the sources point to the positive, and
human clones, not cloned animals. Animals are not subject as science progresses, the world may once again be able to
to mitzvot and have no obligations to others. Therefore, the be home to so many amazing creatures that are endangered
only practical halachic issue regarding a cloned animal or extinct, as God originally intended.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank my father, Rabbi Steven Weil, for reviewing this article and Professor Babich for involving me in this
journal and editing my article.

REFERENCES
[1] Pennisi, E. (1997).The lamb that roared. Science. 278:2038-2039.
[2] Loike, J.D. and Steinberg, A. (1998). Human cloning and halakhic perspectives. Tradition 32.3:31-33
[3] Lanza, R.P. et al. (2000). Cloning of an endanger species (Bos gaurus) using interspecies nuclear transfer. Cloning 2:79-
90.
[4] Folch, J. (2009). First birth of an animal from an extinct subspecies (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) by cloning.
Theriogenology.71:1026-1034.

DERECH HATEVA 45