Quotes are floating around in news reports that wooly mammoths, the extinct behemoths of the ice age, will be fully resurrected within two years.
The hype may be a bit exaggerated, but a team of scientists at Harvard, led by Dr. George Church, are hard at work to make this high profile de-extinction a reality.
The scientific breakthrough that is paving the way for modern mammoths is the technique of “splicing” DNA. Genes coding for certain traits are taken from the bodies of dead mammoths preserved in the arctic permafrost. These genes, which provide instructions for wooly bodies, cold-tolerant blood, and other mammoth traits, are inserted into closely-related asian elephants. The eventual goal is an egg cell that can mature with both living elephant and extinct mammoth DNA.
Not everyone is excited by this prospect. The asian elephant is an endangered species, and potentially harmful experiments would have to be conducted on them to successfully combine their DNA with mammoths. However, the Harvard team believes it’s worth it. A newly revived mammoth species would heavily graze in the Arctic tundra, a factor that could slow the melting of permafrost and the onset of climate change. You can watch Dr. Church explain his goals below.