Resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth: The Genetic Age

 Evolution of the Whale >

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.

Source: NGCI - Baby Mammoth - IBMS #024356NGCUS - Waking the Baby Mammoth - Ep Code: 3630

clone mammoth 1 Source: NGCI – Baby Mammoth – IBMS #024356NGCUS – Waking the Baby Mammoth – Ep Code: 3630



  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.

– Church

If Church’s experiments go as planned, this could be the first time we see a woolly mammoth alive in more than 3,300 years.

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.

– RT


The cloning process.

Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Genus: Mammuthus
Species: M. primigenius

The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) was a species of mammoth, the common name for the extinct elephant genus Mammuthus. The woolly mammoth was one of the last in a line of mammoth species, beginning with Mammuthus subplanifrons in the early Pliocene. M. primigenius diverged from the steppe mammoth, M. trogontherii, about 200,000 years ago in eastern Asia. Its closest extant relative is the Asian elephant.

The appearance and behaviour of this species are among the best studied of any prehistoric animal because of the discovery of frozen carcasses in Siberia and Alaska, as well as skeletons, teeth, stomach contents, dung, and depiction from life in prehistoric cave paintings. Mammoth remains had long been known in Asia before they became known to Europeans in the 17th century. The origin of these remains was long a matter of debate, and often explained as being remains of legendary creatures. The mammoth was identified as an extinct species of elephant by Georges Cuvier in 1796.

The woolly mammoth was roughly the same size as modern African elephants. Males reached shoulder heights between 2.7 and 3.4 m (9 and 11 ft) and weighed up to 6 tonnes (6.6 short tons). Females averaged 2.6–2.9 metres (8.5–9.5 ft) in height and weighed up to 4 tonnes (4.4 short tons). A newborn calf weighed about 90 kilograms (200 lb). The woolly mammoth was well adapted to the cold environment during the last ice age. It was covered in fur, with an outer covering of long guard hairs and a shorter undercoat. The colour of the coat varied from dark to light. The ears and tail were short to minimise frostbite and heat loss. It had long, curved tusks and four molars, which were replaced six times during the lifetime of an individual. Its behaviour was similar to that of modern elephants, and it used its tusks and trunk for manipulating objects, fighting, and foraging. The diet of the woolly mammoth was mainly grass and sedges. Individuals could probably reach the age of 60. Its habitat was the mammoth steppe, which stretched across northern Eurasia and North America.

The woolly mammoth coexisted with early humans, who used its bones and tusks for making art, tools, and dwellings, and the species was also hunted for food. It disappeared from its mainland range at the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 years ago, most likely through climate change and consequent shrinkage of its habitat, hunting by humans, or a combination of the two. Isolated populations survived on St. Paul Island until 6,400 years ago and Wrangel Island until 4,000 years ago. After its extinction, humans continued using its ivory as a raw material, a tradition that continues today. It has been proposed the species could be recreated through cloning, but this method is as yet infeasible because of the degraded state of the remaining genetic material.

– Wikipedia

Evolution of the Whale >


One response to “Resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth: The Genetic Age

  1. Pingback: Evolution: The Whale. | TheZenith·

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