The plight of the elephant has been well documented with declining numbers and a fear of impeding extinction. However, researchers are hoping to save the elephants along with reviving their long-extinct relative the Woolly mammoth. Scientists are working on creating a new species altogether, a mammoth-elephant hybrid. Researchers have successfully spliced Woolly mammoth DNA into the living cells of an Asian elephant. The Asian elephant being the closest living relative to the extinct arctic creatures.
Phys.Org reports that a team of researchers from Harvard University have successfully spliced Woolly Mammoth DNA with that of an Asian elephant. The scientists used DNA extracted from a frozen Woolly Mammoth carcass to make exact copies of 14 separate Woolly mammoth genes. Taking a preserved Arctic permafrost specimen of a Woolly mammoth, scientists analyzed mammoth DNA before reproducing exact copies of fourteen mammoth genes.
Scientist George Church says that the 14 genes were selected based on traits that would be most beneficial to elephant species needing to move to colder climates.
“We prioritized genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially, hemoglobin.”
Though the last Woolly mammoth died off approximately 3,300 years ago, scientists have found a number of well-preserved species deep within permafrost layers. The cold temperatures helped preserve the bodies, including DNA structure. Church hopes that they will be able to insert the traits from Woolly mammoths that would allow for current elephant species facing extinction to be moved to colder climates further away from human interference.
Species of elephants in Africa or Asia who are facing extinction could potentially be moved to the icy climates of the Russian tundra. RT notes that in addition to potentially saving endangered elephant species, the large mammals could also help stabilize the Siberian permafrost.
“The Siberian permafrost is melting with climate change, but research suggests large mammals could stabilize it.”
Though on the surface it appears to be a win-win situation for saving a species that could be headed for extinction, along with stabilizing a region of melting permafrost, some still question the ethics behind creating new species such as the mammoth-elephant hybrid worrying it would be scientists “playing God.”
Church is quick to point out that they are not currently working on cloning a Woolly mammoth, but rather adding mammoth traits to an existing species. Therefore, the Woolly mammoth would technically still be extinct. Though Church has no plans to fully clone a Woolly mammoth, scientists say it would be possible with the DNA that has been recovered.
What do you think about the possibility of scientists creating a mammoth-elephant hybrid to be moved into the Siberian tundra?
[Image Credit: Getty Images/ Tim Boyle]