Harvard Scientists Within “A Couple Of Years” Of Cloning A Mammoth
Scientists behind a massive new project say they plan to resurrect the woolly mammoth “in a couple of years”. Harvard geneticist Professor George Church and his team have been working for the past two years on splicing the DNA of a mammoth with the genome of an elephant embryo to create a hybrid creature that has all the characteristics of the extinct megafauna.
The cells use DNA from mammoths preserved in Arctic permafrost – function fine with each other. The scientists only took genes that are not found in modern Asian elephants, such as the shaggy coat, big ears and antifreeze blood. Tests have shown that the cells with both elephant and mammoth genes functional normally, and the next step is to grow a mammoth embryo inside an artificial womb.
The Harvard team’s research began back in 2015, and since then have increased the “edits” where mammoth DNA has been spliced into that of the elephants from 15 to 45.
Professor Church spoke ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week. He said “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.”
Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo… We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.
Church said that the project had two main goals – one being securing an alternative future for the endangered Asian elephant (the extinc animal’s closest living relative) and the other being a potential method of combating climate change. Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting which would release large amounts of greenhouse gases.
“They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” said Church. “In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.”
However, there have been ethical concerns raised. Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester said that the mammoth was not simply a different elephant, but “a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant. What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?”
Gene splicing and the ethics involved are a key topic for discussion at the Boston conference.