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Cloning of extinct Huia bird approved

A European fashion craze for the large, white-tipped black tail feathers of the Huia led to the New Zealand bird being declared extinct in the 1920s.   

July 20, 1999
Web posted at: 3:15 p.m. EDT (1915 GMT)


(ENN) -- It may sound like science fiction, but scientists and ethicists meeting in New Zealand earlier this month have determined that efforts to revive the extinct Huia bird through cloning should begin immediately.

Professor of molecular biology Diana Hill, who has also investigated the cloning of another extinct bird, the Moa, called the project "flagship research" and "exciting leading-edge science of international significance."

Hill cautioned that technical hurdles mean a cloned Huia is probably some years away.

The project began when students at the Hastings Boys High School in New Zealand wondered if their school emblem, the extinct Huia, could be revived. The students researched the idea, invited speakers and organized a conference. Students, representatives from the Maori, scientists and moral experts met July 9-10 to discuss the technical feasibility and moral permissibility of reviving the Huia.

Now the schoolboy fantasy, inspired by Dr. Michael Crichton's best-selling novel, Jurassic Park, is leading to cutting edge scientific research.

The Huia is a bird of great cultural importance to the Maori, New Zealand's indigenous population. They prized the bird for its large, white-tipped, black tail feathers. Due to a European fashion craze, the bird was declared extinct in the 1920s.

The Reverend Dr. Norman Ford, Catholic priest and director of the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics in Melbourne, Australia, said that the benefits to Maori and to New Zealand of cloning the Huia meant the research was morally acceptable.

Other arguments that supported the morality of cloning the Huia included a restorative justice argument — that the Huia suffered loss through the actions of man and that man should now make good that loss. Cloning supporters also say that it shows that technology can fix the mistakes man has made in the past.

Those who opposed the cloning project had a range of objections — that man should not play god, that the money could be spent better elsewhere, and that the Huia, due to its overspecialized nature was not meant to survive. They say a cloned Huia would not be real and might not be able to survive in the wild.

Cloning supporters carried the day.

"The next step in the cloning process involves searching for cells in the bones and tendons of preserved specimens," says Dr. Rhys Michael Cullen, a New Zealand physician and secretary of the academic committee of, a conference sponsor. "If none are found, then we will try to extract DNA from those specimens and use 'Jurassic Park technology'."

If none of these cells can be found, the nucleus of a cell removed from a taxidermic specimen of a Huia could be fused with the ovum of another bird to start the regeneration. In Scotland, scientists used a cell implant to clone Dolly, the sheep. Alternatively, scientists could attempt to create a clone from a genetic template of the Huia. This was the process to revive dinosaurs from extinction as described in the novel, Jurassic Park.

The cloning project will be financed in part by, inc., a California corporation and Internet start-up, based in San Francisco.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Cloning sheep
Huia conference background
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