Why Scientists Want To Bring The Woolly Mammoth Back To Life
Even though it’s been extinct for thousands of years, the woolly mammoth has been getting a lot of press recently.
That’s because scientists think they are inching closer to being able to bring the ancient furry creatures back to life.
The idea of resurrecting the woolly mammoth and returning it to the wild sounds very Jurassic Park, and it isn’t exactly a new idea.
It’s been talked about for more than a decade.
But earlier this month, a bioscience and genetics company in the US, called Colossal, raised $15 million dollars for its project that is trying to do exactly that.
The project is being run by a group of geneticists, led by a guy called George Church, from Harvard Medical School.
And the new injection of cash means that the project could actually be successful, and within our lifetime.
But How Would This Even Work?
Basically, the group’s goal is to use genetic engineering to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid, which looks just like a woolly mammoth.
Scientists plan to use skin cells from Asian elephants and adapt them into versatile stem cells that can carry mammoth DNA.
They could then make an embryo of the elephant-mammoth hybrid in their lab.
Asian elephants are actually close to extinction themselves, but DNA can be extracted from frozen woolly mammoth specimens that have been found.
The scientists think that if they compare the genomes – which are basically all the different sequences of an animal’s DNA – of the mammoths and elephants, they’ll be able to figure out which specific genes were responsible for what in the mammoths.
Which genes made mammoths grow hair, for example.
Once the embryos are created, they will be placed into a surrogate mother or even an artificial womb.
George Church has said that the ultimate goal is to make a “cold-resistant elephant” and to hopefully “have [the] first calves in the next four to six years”.
But even the people involved in the project think that is pretty ambitious.
A lot has changed since woolly mammoths walked the Earth, particularly because of how rapidly the climate crisis is changing the world today.
So Why Bring The Woolly Mammoth Back At All?
Well, some scientists think bringing back herds of woolly mammoths to the Arctic tundra could actually help combat climate change.
The idea is that woolly mammoths could restore former grasslands and ecosystems in the Arctic through their ability to knock down trees naturally, and also just by living in that kind of habitat again.
The project to bring back mammoths could also keep the endangered Asian elephants alive.
But not all scientists agree.
Some have highlighted huge ethical issues, particularly of not knowing enough about what could happen if these huge creatures were to be reintroduced to the world.
One professor of environmental ethics and philosophy in the US pointed out that it would take decades to create a herd large enough to have any real impact on the environment, and questioned the project’s focus on climate change.
Other people are afraid of a legitimate real-world version of Jurassic Park.