Ch. 6: Metaphysical Rhinos Teacher Sheet

Ch. 6: Metaphysical Rhinos Teacher Sheet


The "Metaphysical Rhinos" chapter explores the idea of de-extinction and introduces the advancements in stem cell research. This chapter also tells the story about the conservation efforts to preserve the white rhinos and the philosophical theories on animal life. This teacher sheet provides background information and answers to the questions on the student sheet.

There are many key terms introduced in this chapter that students may not be familiar with. If there are any terms missing on this sheet that you think the students should know, please add them. Use the resources provided to familiarize yourself with this chapter and the concepts presented. The takeaway points of this chapter include:

  • This chapter introduces the idea of using stem cell technology for wildlife conservation. The big question this technology brings up is could the use of induced pluripotent stem cells from frozen tissue samples be used to make embryos to help increase genetic diversity in existing populations, resurrect extinct animals, or even create entirely new animals?
  • This idea leads into the story of the conservation efforts to save the northern white rhino where only eight are left in captivity and none in the wild.
  • Here is a good example of how DNA is used to determine evolutionary relatedness and that northern and southern white rhinos are genetically different from one another and therefore should both be protected.
  • Scientists created the first iPSC lines for the northern white rhinos yet the research didn’t continue. This brings up another big ethical question of whether or not a rhino born of a laboratory would be the same as one born of a living rhino.
  • The author goes into reviewing metaphysics, which is the philosophy of the nature of reality and existence. Students may get stuck here, but it will be worth it for them to try to understand some of these arguments to think about the question above. This plays on the idea of whether or not DNA is enough to define an organism or whether it is how an organism interacts with the environment that defines it. A resurrected rhino would have the same DNA as its ancestors and therefore be the same species. However, if you believe each organism is unique in its relationship to its environment, the resurrected rhino would be a new organism.

Key Terms

  • Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – these stem cells are capable of developing into any type of cell in the body, including gametes (sperm and eggs)
  • Metaphysics – branch of philosophy that explores concepts such as the nature of existence and reality


1. In your own words, explain the dilemma in this chapter.

Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.

2. What was one of the most interesting things you discovered in this chapter?

Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.

3. What was confusing?

Answers will vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.

4. What are induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)? How could these be used for wildlife conservation?  

These are stem cells that are capable of developing into any type of cell in the body, including gametes (sperm and eggs). DNA taken from an endangered or extinct animal can be used to make these cells into sperm and eggs to help in breeding efforts to increase genetic diversity in existing populations. This could also be used to resurrect extinct animals or even create entirely new species. 

5. Explain in your own words the metaphysical concepts “real essentialism” and “three-dimensional individualism.” 

Real essentialism is the idea that everything has its own essence and that essence can be found in the DNA (i.e., a horse is a horse and all horses share in the same essence). Three-dimensional individualism is the idea that within a population of species, rather than all of them being seen the same, they are actually individuals. These two concepts play on how resurrecting an extinct animal would be viewed. Based on the essentialism perspective, a rhino born in a lab would share the same essence or DNA as one born in the wild and, therefore, would be the same species. The individualism perspective, however, is that the rhino would not be the same species and be a completely new organism.

6. In your own words, do you think it is ethical to create iPSCs from endangered animals to save them? What about creating new species to increase diversity? 

Answers may vary. Encourage your students to explain their answers.

7. Give a brief history of the struggle to save white rhinos in the wild. 

Poaching dramatically decreased rhino populations. The last remaining of the population of northern white rhinos were moved to a reserve, but there were issues with mating. There is a lot of detail in the book. It is up to you how much detail you would like the students to go into. 

8. Research any additional information out there on the white rhinos. How are these rhinos doing today? 

The last male northern white rhino has passed and two females remain. 

This teacher sheet is a part of the Resurrection Science lesson.

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