Photo credit: WofmanSF (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The woolly mammoth has not been seen on Earth in more than four thousand years. But if scientists from the International Collective Users’ Center of Molecular Paleontology in Yakutsk, Siberia have their way, the giant hairy beast’s exodus from the planet may soon come to an end.
With DNA extracted from the bone marrow of a 28,000-year-old specimen found preserved in the Russian permafrost, the biotech specialists plan to bring the woolly mammoth back from the dead – literally. Aided by the quick-freezing capacities of the Siberian tundra, the recovered mammoth cells have maintained their biological integrity for thousands of years, giving genetic scientists the material they need to carry out a successful cloning procedure.
The day may come when a few cells collected from a species of animal – or a human being – can he used to grow a fully functioning biological entity in a laboratory vat or incubator. But for now the technology of cloning is slow, indirect and still a work in progress.
In the woolly mammoth project the process will start with the recovered cells. They will be cloned to create a sizable batch of cells for study and analysis, allowing the scientists to crack the mammoth’s genetic code and learn how its genes would have expressed themselves in nature. Through a process of substitution, sections of synthesized woolly mammoth DNA will then be inserted into the genome of cells collected from an elephant, a warm-weather cousin of the extinct Siberian beast.
After a full transfer has been completed, the scientists will be in possession of elephant sleeper cells designed to produce an authentic woolly mammoth – which is exactly what they’ll do once they’ve been spliced into an elephant embryo and implanted inside a female elephant, who will then give birth to her hair offspring approximately 22 months later. Rinse and repeat again and again, and before they know what hit them the Siberian scientists will be surrounded by a whole herd of ghostly behemoths rescued from the forgotten mists of time.
In addition to the scientific value of the experiment (it must have some, right?), the return of woolly mammoths would be quite a boon to the Siberian tourist industry, which at this point exists only as an oxymoron.
Of course this would still be a long way from Jurassic Park, since woolly mammoths are not dinosaurs. But un-degraded biological remains have been found preserved inside dinosaur fossils (including T.Rex fossils), and researchers hold out hope that intact DNA might be recovered from such artifacts one day.
If so, knowledge gained from the woolly mammoth resurrection project could prove invaluable to scientists interested in cloning dinosaurs. And that is fantastic news, because if we did clone dinosaurs someday it would be really cool and there’s no chance anything could ever go wrong.