Woolly Mammoth on Verge of Resurrection


The Harvard team leading the de-extinction effort is now aiming to make an elephant-mammoth hybrid, and announced this week that a "mammophant" embryo could be created within two years.

Church says the next step would be to produce a hybrid embryo, although in reality this would really be more like an elephant embryo carrying a handful of mammoth genetic traits.

In fact, genetic editing could be good news for Asian elephants: one of the aims of the project is to produce an alternative future for the endangered species.The other aim is perhaps more surprising: to help combat climate change.

There are also a number of ethical concerns needing to be addressed, such as ensuring the hybrids are accepted into elephant communities, as elephants are known to be social animals. While they are now testing out artificial wombs as an option (with mice) instead of growing the embryos in living Asian elephants, Church believes they're about a decade out from that depth of innovation. According to the Guardian, the animal would look like an elephant, but would have small ears, along with long shaggy hair.

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Professor George Church, who head the Harvard University team doing the research, said: "The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments". The end goal is to develop a mammoth embryo into a fetus, and to take it to full term, he told New Scientist.

But don't expect the woolly mammoth remake to be exactly the same as its Ice Age ancestor.

Derived from a defence system bacteria use to fend off viruses, it allows the "cut and paste" manipulation of strands of DNA with a precision not seen before.

"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", Prof Church said.

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Gene splicing and the ethics involved are a key topic for discussion at the Boston conference.

Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

The academic added: "We hope to do the entire procedure ex-vivo (outside a living body)". There are experiments in the literature from the 1980s but there hasn't been much interest for a while.

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