Russian scientists are working with cloning experts in South Korea to resurrect the extinct woolly mammoth. The scientists hope to find living cells on a piece of 10,000 year old mammoth skin found preserved in permafrost. If living cells are found, the group plans to use the eggs of the woolly mammoth’s closest living relative, the Asian elephant, for the cloning process.
The Daily Mail reports that researchers with the North-Eastern Federal University in Russia has signed an agreement to cooperate with the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in Seoul, South Korea, and the Beijing Genomics Institute for the woolly mammoth cloning project. The scientists hope to clone the extinct mammoths with genetic material secured from a 10,000 year old piece of mammoth skin found preserved in permafrost. The skin specimen was uncovered in the Lyakhovsky Islands which is thought to be one of the last refuges for the large beasts before they became extinct.
According to the Siberian Times, Semyon Grigoryev is heading the woolly mammoth expedition and is hopeful that the piece of skin will contain living cells that can be extracted and used for the cloning process. Grigoryev claims that the 10,000 year old piece of woolly mammoth skin is the project’s best bet for finding viable cells.
“The skin is especially interesting for the ‘Revival of the Mammoth’ project. Our Korean colleagues believe that skin is the best material for cloning attempts through finding viable cells. Now we are studying the skin in our new laboratory.”
The researcher went on to disclose why the Lyakhovsky Islands were chosen for the woolly mammoth cloning project base. Grigoryev notes that the islands are home to the highest known concentration of mammoth remains, which would provide the project with the most available samples.
If viable cells are retrieved from the skin sample, scientists from the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation plan to insert the woolly mammoth’s genetic material into the egg of an Asian elephant for cloning. With the Russian researchers teaming up with the South Korean biotech firm, the prospects of a resurrected woolly mammoth are seemingly climbing. For the first time, researchers in the area say they have a laboratory that can handle the delicate specimens.
Meanwhile, researchers at Harvard University have already managed to copy 14 genes from a woolly mammoth into the genome of an Asian elephant. This has led many scientists to believe that a mammoth-elephant hybrid may be possible before a fully realized mammoth clone, but much research is still needed for either project to come to full fruition as both hybrid and cloned embryos have a low rate of growing to full term.
“Some say mammoth-elephant hybrid may be a more realistic prospect, but even this is controversial. In many cases the success rate at producing viable embryos that grow to full term is poor.”
It was also noted that many cloned creatures end up with a host of health problems which could be the case for a cloned mammoth. Additionally, many have pointed out that the climate and terrain are slightly different than when the giant beasts roamed the Siberian tundra. Therefore, some question if the new habitat can sustain the creatures in the long-term.
What do you think about the prospect of scientists resurrecting the woolly mammoth through cloning? What about the prospects of a mammoth-elephant hybrid? Are scientists opening Pandora’s box by attempting to bring back an extinct species?
[Image Credit: Getty Images/ Peter Macdiarmid]