Cloning The Huia - A Dodo Of An Idea?
It sounded like a dodo of an idea several months ago, but the `cloning the Huia' conference held at Hastings Boys High School over the weekend was a phenomenal success according to one of the organisers, Dr. Rhys Cullen.
Ngati Huia, kaitiaki (guardians) of the Huia expressed their support for the cloning of the huia `if at all possible' in a paper presented by Mr. Rupene Waaka.
Professor Diana Hill, head of the Molecular Biology Unit at the University of Otago, described the project as `flagship research', and `exciting leading edge science of international significance'. Although a cloned huia is some years away, and there are significant technical hurdles, there are also spin-off benefits en route. These include encouraging students to enter careers in science, and providing a focus for discussion of moral and Treaty issues.
Reverend Dr. Norman Ford, Catholic priest and director of the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics in Melbourne said that the benefits to Maori and to New Zealand of cloning the Huia meant the research was morally acceptable. In response to a question about whether cloning was `playing God', Professor Ford replied that "man was made in God's image. It was intended that man imitate God, as long as that imitation did not cross the moral line between good and evil."
Pamela Lovis, head of curatorial services at the Science Centre and Manawatu Museum talked about the museum's Huia exhibition that is currently touring the country and opens at the National Library in Wellington soon.
Each of these invited speakers had his or her paper preceded by a mini-paper from one or more students from Hastings Boys High School. These boys ranged in size from the head boy, Arthur Trousdell, a national secondary schools basketball representative, to the truly diminutive third former whose eyes and hair alone were visible above the lectern. The audience, assembled from Dunedin, Christchurch, the West Coast, Wellington, Otaki, the Manawatu, Auckland, Hawkes Bay, and even Australia, "was impressed by the depth of research and quality of presentation displayed by the students" according to Doctor Cullen.
Ngati Huia has mandated further research. "The next step in the cloning process involves searching for Huia cells in the bones and tendons of preserved specimens" says Dr. Cullen. "If none are found, then we will try to extract DNA from those specimens and use Professor Hill's Jurassic Park technology".
The conference expenses were paid by cyberuni.org, inc a California corporation that intends to provide university level courses suitable for Internet based learning to universities and colleges around the world. Cyberuni.org, inc. is 20% owned by Maori and 20% by the Matthew Gardiner-Hill Community Trust, a leading New Zealand education charity, chaired by Dr. Cullen.
"The Matthew Gardiner-Hill Community Trust provides tertiary scholarships, third form bursaries, and teacher sabbaticals" says Dr. Cullen. "Our involvement in cyberuni.org, inc is an extension of our support for education into the provision of course materials."