Mammoth, the ancestral cousin of the elephant that walked the Earth thousands of years ago and now exists only in our imaginations — and in natural history museum dioramas.
Scientists want to bring it back.
Will mammoths be real?
World-renowned geneticist Prof George Church and his team at Harvard University have been working for the past two years on recreating the DNA blueprint of the mammoth.
They have used DNA from mammoths that were preserved in Arctic permafrost to look for the genes that separated them from elephants, such as those with code for a shaggy coat, big ears and antifreeze blood.
Such a way, the scientists are trying to rebuild an ancient ecosystem that could help to combat global warming.
The plan depends on cold-resistant animals that graze and trample the tundra as their ancestors did thousands of years ago, a process that exposes the underlying soil to frigid air and protects it from a thaw that could release massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
“They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” said Prof Church. “In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.” – says Prof Church.
It sounds outlandish, and, in some respects, it is. But a series of discoveries in recent years have made “de-extinction” of the mammoth and other lost species theoretically possible.
Professor George Church said: “We’re working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab. The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments. We already know about ones to do with small ears, sub-cutaneous fat, hair and blood, but there are others that seem to be positively selected.”
He added: “Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant/mammoth embryo. Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”
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