A group of researchers at Harvard University are attempting to clone woolly mammoths in an attempt to bring the extinct animals back to life. Mammoths roamed across many parts of the world during the last Ice Age before completely disappearing roughly 10,000 years ago. Though they have long been dead, their genetic makeup was extremely close to modern-day Asian elephants.
For that reason, the team in the study hopes to bring mammoths back by using a genetic tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 to splice DNA from a 40,000-year-old-specimen with the DNA of a modern-day Asian elephant. Then, they plan to grow the creature with an artificial womb to produce an elephant/mammoth hybrid. Though that plan seems like something out of science fiction, researchers believe it is possible.
‘We have already revived dozens of genes and are testing them in elephant cells,” lead researcher George Church, a professor at Harvard University, told Sun Online. ‘We are focusing on reviving mammoth genes and making a mammoth/elephant hybrid and help them spread to vast wild, arctic climates.”
This two-year plan is unlike anything that has come before it, and could pave the way for brand new cloning research. Though researchers are not sure how the mammoths would operate if brought back, they plan to release any successful hybrids into a 20,000 hectare Ice Age safari park in a remote part of Siberia.
That location is important because the team believes the beasts would help regenerate Arctic climates by stimulating vegetation growth. There is even a chance the mammoths could help repopulate frozen wastelands as well.
The team plans to take cells for the project that have genes for key features, including shaggy hair, thick layers of fat, and blood that can handle sub-zero conditions.
‘We’re working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and are basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab,” added Church, according to Daily Mail. “The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments. We already know about ones to do with small ears, subcutaneous fat, hair, and blood, but there are others that seem to be positively selected.’
Though there is still a way to go before bringing mammoths back, researchers believe that it could happen within the next few years.