By successfully inserting some sequences of mammoth DNA into an elephant genome, scientists at Harvard University are one step closer to bringing the ancient Woolly mammoth back to life. The study is yet to be published since researchers say there is much more work to do.
So why are they trying to recreate this humongous animal from the Ice Age?
George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard University and his team ultimately hope to do so since Professor Church believes that bringing the ancient mammoth back could eventually have a positive impact on the ecosystems in Russia. “The Siberian permafrost is melting with climate change, but research suggests large mammals could stabilize it,” he said.
Taking a preserved Arctic permafrost specimen of a Woolly mammoth, he and his scientists analyzed mammoth DNA before reproducing exact copies of fourteen mammoth genes.
“We prioritized genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially, hemoglobin,” Church said to The Sunday Times.
The woolly mammoth was one of the last in the line of the species that emerged in the early Pliocene age about 2.5 million years ago but then almost completely died 10,000 years ago. There were some mammoths that had continued to survive on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, which is between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea, until around 3,300 years ago. The latter are the specimens which researchers used for the DNA analysis in this study.
And why with the elephant?
The woolly mammoth’s closest extant relative is the Asian elephant and was one of the last in a line of mammoth species.
The introduction of the genes into the elephant was done through a new developed technique called CRISPR, (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat), which allows for precise editing of DNA by taking out parts of modern elephant DNA and replacing them the prehistoric genes.
“We now have functioning elephant cells with mammoth DNA in them,” Church declared.
But this is not without controversy. Some argue that the funding of this should be to preserve living endangered species rather than bring back extinct mammals. Currently, there are at least three separate research teams working towards reconstructing the whole mammoth genome.
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