The woolly mammoth went extinct around four millennia ago, according to the Guardian. However, while it may sound as though it is straight out of a Jurassic Park script, scientists now claim to be close to “resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form.”
According to the Guardian, when it comes to creatures that are alive on the planet today, there is none more similar to the woolly mammoth than the Asian elephant. Back in 2015, George Church of Harvard University, who is leading a team of scientists behind the effort to “de-extinct” the woolly mammoth, told the Huffington Post that the two animals are so compatible that they would be able to breed with each other today, if the mammoth were still alive.
Church recently delivered comments on the “de-extinction” plan before the yearly American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, according to the Guardian. The Asian elephant will play a key role in the effort to resurrect the woolly mammoth, or at least the effort to create an elephant that carries certain mammoth traits, such as “shaggy long hair” and “thick layers of fat,” according to New Scientist.
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) February 16, 2017
For now, Church and his team are incorporating some of the woolly mammoth’s “genetic traits” into the “genome of the Asian elephant,” per New Scientist. Currently, according to New Scientist, there have been “45 mammoth-like edits of DNA [that] have been spliced into the Asian elephant genome.” The effort to resurrect the woolly mammoth reportedly began during the year 2015, according to the Guardian, but thus far, Church and his team have only worked up to “the cell stage.”
According to New Scientist, Church claims that the future goal is to fashion “a hybrid embryo,” which would, for all intents and purposes, equate to an “elephant embryo” that contains a few of the “mammoth’s genetic traits.” Per New Scientist, Church believes he and his team may only be two years away from creating such an embryo. The Guardian claims that some have already dubbed the potential hybrid creature “a mammophant.”
“The creature, sometimes referred to as a ‘mammophant’, would be partly elephant, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes for these traits are spliced into the elephant DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr.”
According to New Scientist and the Guardian, Church and his team hope to accomplish this project in a laboratory using an “artificial womb,” as opposed to having a living female elephant carry the embryo. The technology does not yet exist, and Church admits that by not using a live surrogate mother, the effort to bring the woolly mammoth back may not be a success, according to New Scientist. According to the Guardian, Church claims that his lab is currently able to develop “a mouse embryo in an artificial womb for 10 days.”
Some will naturally wonder whether or not it would be a good idea to resurrect the woolly mammoth, with many already pointing out “ethical concerns” of such an endeavor. Per the Guardian, University of Manchester zoology professor Mathew Cobb points out the mammoth “was a social animal,” much like the Asian elephant is today. Cobb questions how other elephants will react when the “mammophant” is presented to the world.
— Mirror Tech (@MirrorTech) February 16, 2017
According to Church, as both the Guardian and New Scientist report, one reason for bringing the woolly mammoth back it to possibly provide an “alternative future” for the Asian elephant. The Asian Elephant is currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species. Church also claims that resurrecting the woolly mammoth could help fight “global warming,” as the creature “punch[es] through snow and allow[es] cold air to come in,” therefore protecting the tundra from thaw, according to the Guardian and New Scientist.
According to the Guardian, the reason behind the mammoth’s extinction was likely due to a mixture of “climate change and hunting by humans.” What do you think about the effort by Harvard scientists to resurrect the woolly mammoth and create a “mammophant”?
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