A geneticist from Harvard University plans to resurrect the extinct woolly mammoth in two years by combing key genetic traits of the extinct creature with DNA from an endangered Asian elephant.
Rogue geneticist George Church announced his plan to create a hybrid woolly mammoth embryo this week using advanced technology that doesn’t exist quite yet, Church told The Guardian.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo. Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”
Woolly mammoths vanished from the surface of the Earth some 4,000 ago probably due to a combination of human hunting and climate change, but now Church and his team want to “de-extinct” the creature in an ambitious feat of genetic engineering.
The hybrid “mammophant” would essentially be an Asian elephant with mammoth features like long shaggy hair, subcutaneous fat, and small ears.
To accomplish this feat of “de-extincting” the woolly mammoth Church and his team plan to use a cloning process that involves the cutting of DNA from frozen specimens and pasting into Asian elephant DNA, a process known as Crispr/Cas9, which Church helped develop and demonstrate in 2012, according to NewScientist.
“We’re working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits. The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments. We already know about ones to do with small ears, subcutaneous fat, hair and blood.”
The Asian elephant is endangered, making it ethically questionable to use an adult female of the species to help breed a new woolly mammoth hybrid, which is why Church and his team plan on growing the “mammophant” fetus in a lab and bringing it to term.
Using an artificial womb to grow the hybrid woolly mammoth fetus would make it possible to raise the creature without a mother, although notably without the pre-birth interactions most creatures on the planet are used to.
Unfortunately, that technology doesn’t exist quite yet, but Church and his team are confident it will be developed soon. The geneticists have already managed to grow a mouse embryo halfway through its gestation period, although they were unable to carry it to term.
The rogue scientist isn’t just interested in creating a new zoo exhibit. Church argues resurrecting the extinct woolly mammoth could help fight climate change; releasing the creatures in the Arctic would allow them to help keep the tundra from thawing, according to The Guardian.
“They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in. In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.”
Church also argues the advanced cloning technology will one day enable scientists to eventually stop the aging process in humans. It would also preserve the Asian elephant and protect it from extinction, albeit in an altered form.
The cloning experiment also brings into question the ability of humans to resurrect extinct species, which is becoming increasingly important as the world approaches a sixth mass extinction, an event not seen in millions of years.
Humans sit atop the food chain and when the animals and plants at the bottom start disappearing and the planet starts losing its biodiversity it becomes more difficult for our species to survive. Other options to cloning might include some type of bio-mechanical answer like the one Japanese scientists came up with when they invented the robot bee to replace the real bees that are dying off in mass numbers.
Do you think geneticists should clone a woolly mammoth hybrid?
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