Thanks to the advances in gene editing tools and technologies, scientists reached the following conclusion. They could potentially start cloning wooly mammoths. Which would theoretically bring back to life the long extinct species.
Wooly mammoths are amongst the most known and best studied prehistoric species. This is due to the many remnants found by scientists. These also include cave paintings and even frozen carcasses.
The wide variety of data also led researchers to the following conclusion. Our modern Asian elephant is probably its closest extant relative.
- Wooly mammoths are one of the last specimens of the mammoth species.
- They lived in the Pleistocene epoch.
- This species is believed to have diverged from the steppe mammoth.
- Wooly mammoths were spread throughout the globe.
- They lived both in North America as well as in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
- The species is believed to have vanished some 4,500 years ago.
Nonetheless, scientists now believe that they could bring it back. Or at least create a wooly hybrid. The team to try and do so comes from Harvard University. The geneticists have been working on the matter since 2015.
And now, they claim to be just 2 years away from a breakthrough. The team that set this target is led by George Church. He is Professor part of Harvard University.
Together with his team, they are planning on coming up with a revolutionary research. This would make use of the discovered frozen carcasses. The Arctic permafrost helped preserve such a shaggy specimen. And also revealed traces of its frozen DNA.
According to Professor Church, the team is working on figuring out some elements. The research team is known as the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival Team.
Presently, they are working on determining the potential impact of the genetic edits. And they are trying to establish the embryogenesis in their labs. Professor Church also offered details on their aim.
The team will be trying to produce a hybrid embryo. Its gene will combine elephant and mammoth properties. Or more exactly, the potentially resulting animal would still be more like an elephant. But it would also present mammoth traits.
For the moment, the team still has its work cut out for it. But such an embryo could be developed as early as two years from now.
They have already been working on the project for two years. During this time, they have been trying to recreate the wooly mammoth’s DNA blueprint.
As their closest living relative, research will use Asian elephant DNA. The wooly mammoths “resurrection” would also make use of CRISPR/Cas9. This latter is a genome-editing tool.
Professor Church is amongst the ones to have developed the technology. One which has been in use since 2012. And which is still raising controversies.
In the wooly mammoth case, CRISPR/Cas9 would be used as follows. It would help splice the mammoth genes into an Asian elephant’s genome. This would change the resulting embryo. And turn it into a hybrid species. One which could possess a mammoth’s distinct features.
Research has already performed this gene-editing process. It was done for some 15 up to 45 times. According to Church, most edits affect the elephant’s ability of surviving in cold environments. More exactly, they enhance its capabilities in the area.
Wooly mammoths are believed to have gone extinct due to a number of causes. One of the main causes was climate change. Another was related to humans. Our earliest ancestors hunted them for foraging, their trunks, and also tusks.
The resulting hybrid embryo will be bred in an artificial womb. Scientists decided not to use a female elephant for the experiment.
As the team is continuing its research, opinions on the matter vary. Some are quite excited and see this as a “massive opportunity”. One which could help both extinct and struggling and declining modern species.
On the contrary, others question the decision and idea of reviving the lost species. And also raise questions as to its function, effects, and consequences.
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