Researchers from Harvard University have announced on Wednesday that they successfully managed to insert genetic samples from the extinct wooly mammoth in to the code of an Asian elephant, bringing them one step closer towards resurrecting the giant animals.
Wooly mammoths went extinct more than 4,000 years ago, after the last know herds died off in the Wrangel Island situated in the Arctic Ocean. Recreating their genetic sequencing wasn’t a very difficult job, as DNA samples of wooly mammoths were found protected in layers of permafrost. This type of mammoth is very similar in size to the modern Asian elephant, which
To merge the two types of DNA, the Harvard researchers first identified the genes that made the mammoth cold-resistant – unlike elephants, mammoths had hair, bigger ears and more fat under their skin, mostly to protect them from the harsh conditions of their medium. They then replicated these differences and successfully inserted them into the DNA sequencing of an Asian elephant, which at the end of the experiment seemed to provide a fully functional cell.
This doesn’t mean that wooly mammoths are now ready for artificial insemination; this hybrid gene would just create a type of Asian elephant more resistant to cold and similar to their hairy cousins. At this point, it isn’t even clear if such a hybrid specimen would even get past its first days of life.
However, the success of modifying genetic data to bring back some of their features might prove the basis of a step-by-step approach in which scientists might forever change the course of evolution, by bringing back an extinct species for the first time in history. Besides this, resurrecting the long lost giant might have a great effect on the ecosystem of the Russian taiga.
“All the plant species survived on the backs of these animals. If we brought the mammoth back to Siberia, maybe that would be good for the ecosystems that are changing because of climate change” said Hendrik Poinar, professor of evolutionary genetics at McMaster University.
The ultimate goal of the Harvard research team, led by genetics professor Dr. George Church, is to fully reconstruct a mammoth embryo and inseminate it within an Asian elephant, with the first attempt expect to happen around 2018.
Image Source: The Telegraph