Woolly mammoths lived during the Ice Age and disappeared from the Earth around 4,000 years ago. Some scientists are now claiming that they are on the verge of bringing these animals back to life, but in a modified form. Using genetic engineering, these scientists will attempt to resurrect woolly mammoths.
Researchers have two goals for the mammoth project: first, to change the ecosystem in ways that could help combat the effects of global warming; and second, to help preserve the genes of the endangered Asian elephant.
In an annual meeting with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) earlier this winter, Professor George Church of Harvard—the leading researcher behind this “de-extinction” project—announced the ambitious plan to resurrect this ancient animal. Professor Church believes that he and his team are only two years away from creating a hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo by implanting mammoth traits into an Asian elephant.
The project began in 2015 with initial plans to develop the hybrid in an artificial womb. This would prevent putting a female elephant through the risks of carrying an extinct species. The gene-editing DNA involved came from specimens frozen for millennia in Siberian ice. While Professor Church’s team is focusing on creating the embryos, he says it will be many years before they actually attempt to create a live animal.
Why the Asian elephant? The woolly mammoth had features similar to this elephant, which is actually the mammoth’s closest living relative. For example, their small ears, blubber-like fat, long shaggy hair, and adapted cold blood are alike. Woolly mammoths lived in a range from Europe to Asia and Africa to North America. Frequent climate change and human hunting may have caused their disappearance.
As Professor Church’s study proceeds, several questions must be addressed before the mammoth is restored. What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will other elephants greet it? When the team’s efforts become a living, breathing reality, answering these ethical concerns will be a big part of the next step.
[Source: The Guardian]