A storm is coming; an ice storm, through which mammoths may once again roam and rumble. For some years now scientists have toiled through a multitude of milestones, with the ultimate goal of bringing the beast of the Paleolithic; the Woolly Mammoth back to life.
A mammoth by the way is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus, proboscideans commonly equipped with long, curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair. They lived from the Pliocene epoch (from around 5 million years ago) into the Holoceneat about 4,500 years ago in Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. They were members of the family Elephantidae which contains, along with mammoths, the two genera of modern elephants and their ancestors.
A group of researchers at Harvard University have taken one step closer to achieving their goal of bringing back everyone’s favourite extinct Proboscidea, after successfully inserting some sequences of mammoth DNA into an Asian elephant genome (it’s closest living ancestor). Although it is a major step forward, the results have yet to be published and peer reviewed. There is still work to be done, but the team seem to suggest that at this time that is closer, but not as close as some headlines are suggesting. We may yet have to wait some time before at least a hybrid form is walking the tundra, somehow, somewhere.
The work is part of an greater effort to bring extinct species back from the dead, and stems from the work on genetics that now goes back decades. The process of bringing back any organism in this manner is called “de-extinction”. The recent breakthrough in this case has the specific method of splicing genes from relatively deceased mammoths (around 4000 years old), and it just might work. However Church explains:
Just making a DNA change isn’t that meaningful. We want to read out the phenotypes.
To do that this, the team needs to work out how to take flat hybrid cells from a petri dish and form from them tissues, then to test to see if they behave properly. For example, do the mammoth hair genes lead to hair that’s the right color, length, and woolliness?
The general consensus of the whole idea is fascinating in the fact that humanity and science have strived us to go so far and to have such a thing even be a possibility. Yes technically it would be a new species altogether with the genetic traits of a mammoth and traits inherited by its gestated elephant mother that carries it during pregnancy. Of Course a lot of questions and problematics come into play. – RT.
Taking a preserved Arctic permafrost specimen of a Woolly mammoth, scientists analyzed mammoth DNA before reproducing exact copies of fourteen mammoth genes.
We prioritized genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially, hemoglobin
– Church, told The Sunday Times.
The woolly mammoth was one of the last in the line of the species that emerged in the early Pliocene age some 2.5 million years ago but almost completely died 10,000 years ago. Some mammoths, however, continued to survive on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea, until around 3,300 years ago. These were the specimens which researchers used for the DNA analysis.
The scientists inserted mammoth genes into the cells of its closest living relative, the Asian elephant.
The introduction of the genes was done through a new developed technique CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat), that allows for precise editing of DNA taking out parts of modern elephant DNA and replacing them the prehistoric genes.
We now have functioning elephant cells with mammoth DNA in them.
We have not published it in a scientific journal because there is more work to do, but we plan to do so.
Beth Shapiro, University of California professor, in her new book, ‘How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction’ explores the possibility of mammoth resurrection, as a number of well-preserved species have been found in the past.
If we really want to bring mammoths back to life, then we’re in luck, as far as DNA preservation goes. It’s in pretty shoddy condition, so hard to piece together, but if we sort through these tiny pieces, finding where they fit along the elephant genome, then we can slowly build a lot of the mammoth genome.
Professor Church believes that bringing the ancient mammoth back eventually could have a positive impact on the ecosystems in Russia. “The Siberian permafrost is melting with climate change, but research suggests large mammals could stabilize it.