It seems like a scene out of Jurassic Park – taking DNA from an extinct animal and attempting to bring the species back to life. That very thing is what scientists from Russia are trying to do with the wooly mammoth and other frozen animals that have long been extinct. Leading the charge on these initiatives is Russia, which recently opened a research facility in Yakutsk, Siberia for the purpose of seeking out live cells from a preserved wooly mammoths.
Semen Grigoryev, director of the Mammoth at Northeastern Federal University said that “the priority is to look into bringing back the mammoth.” As exciting as this may be, there are also ethical questions raised by the process.
Each country involved in the research, including China, South Korea and the United States, is focusing on different aspects of the task of bringing back the mammoth.
Earlier this year, scientists at Harvard University reported that they had copied several wooly mammoth genes and inserted them into the DNA genome from a living Asian elephant. Russian researchers have access to an enormous collection of greater than 2,000 remains of prehistoric animals, including primitive dogs and mammoths – all found frozen in the Siberian permafrost.
The scientists hope to find cell tissue from these remains from which to extract DNA.
Presently, scientists have yet to uncover the most important element needed to clone: actual living cells. As such, the search for the key to life, nuclear DNA, continues.
Once that is located, molecular biologists could begin the process of trying to culture wooly mammoth stem cells. The next step would be to replace segments of elephant DNA with the newly created segments of wooly mammoth DNA. The living cells would then be spliced into an elephant embryo which would be implanted into a female elephant.
Hopefully, the elephant would then give birth to a wooly mammoth.
While all of this sounds absolutely amazing, there are some ethical concerns raised by cloning a wooly mammoth.
Researcher Dr. Tori Herridge points out that cloning would be a step backwards as the task potentially endangers existing elephants as they would face significant risks going through the surrogacy process. Moreover, the issues facing existing elephants, including poaching, could be ignored as the race for cloning wooly mammoths takes place.
Yet others believe that the risks are worth it. The study of the mammoth genome and perfecting the cloning process has applications that could benefit humans.
As we saw in the blockbuster Jurassic Park, the newly cloned dinosaurs did not act according to plan. The movie points out that dinosaurs had their chance and we know what happened. Could bringing back an extinct species such as the wooly mammoth defy the natural order of the universe and cause only problems? That remains to be seen.