Major breakthrough for possible return of the woolly mammoth

23 Mar 2015

Harvard scientists have successfully inserted DNA recreated from the preserved carcass of a woolly mammoth into the live cells of an Asian elephant.

Fortunate to have discovered such carcarssas in the permafrost of the Arctic, scientists investigated the genetic code, discovering 14 specific genes that separate Woolly Mammoths from todays elephants – Asian elephants are the closest relations.

“We prioritised genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially,” George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard University, told The Sunday Times.

“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 and his team are not alone in seeking out a way to clone a species that finally died out 3,300 years ago, with two other teams attempting to do likewise – much to the consternation of some modern day conservationists.

“We face the potential extinction of African and Asian elephants. Why bring back another elephantid from extinction when we cannot even keep the ones that are not extinct around?” said Professor Alex Greenwood, an expert on ancient DNA, in the Independent.

“What is the message? We can be as irresponsible with the environment as we want. Then we’ll just clone things back?

“Money would be better spent focusing on conserving what we do have than spending it on an animal that has been extinct for thousands of years.”

But that’s not going to stop those searching for the key to unlocking such a breakthrough in cloning. And, given the fact that more Woolly Mammoth finds could be made across the Arctic tundra and parts of Siberia, often in full form, the opportunities may continue to grow.

Woolly Mammoth image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic