A team from Harvard University spliced mammoth DNA into living elephant cells, which may mean that one day we will see woolly mammoths walking the Earth. Bringing back extinct species may sound like science fiction, but the researchers claim to be able to do just that, writes Mary Nichols for Design & Trend.
Splicing genes with those of Asian elephant
In order to bring back the woolly mammoth, the researchers replicated the genes which differentiate elephants from their shaggy forebears, including bigger ears, fur and extra layers of fat, before inserting them into the genetic code of an Asian elephant. The Asian elephant is the closest living relative to the woolly mammoth, so there was no need for the scientists to produce entirely new cells.
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The mammoth genes were taken from specimens found in the permafrost of the Arctic Ocean, and the project represents a potentially exciting step for genetic research.
However, not all of the scientific community is thrilled by the discovery, with some scientists speaking out on the ethical implications of bringing extinct animals back to life.
Woolly mammoths ignite debate in scientific community
In its defense the project’s website claims that the aim “is not to make perfect copies of extinct woolly mammoths, but to focus on the mammoth adaptations needed for Asian elephants to live in the cold climate of the tundra”.
It also claims that tundra ecosystems could be restored by the modified elephants, which could also improve our understanding of extinct genes, as well as how to manage populations of large mammals.
Other scientists are worried that the possibility of cloning extinct animals could detract from the importance of conserving populations of threatened species, or encourage testing on live Asian elephants. Dr Tori Herridge, an expert in mammoth anatomy from the Natural History Museum in London, pondered “whether or not the justifications for cloning a mammoth are worth the suffering, the concerns of keeping an elephant in captivity, experimenting on her, making her go through a 22-month pregnancy, to potentially give birth to something which won’t live, or to carry something which could be damaging to her”.
Professor Alex Greenwood, an ancient DNA expert, also holds strong views on the matter. “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?,” he said.