Researchers from Harvard University announced their plan to bring the woolly mammoth back to life using CRISPR/Cas9 within two years’ time. This would not only allow us to learn more about the prehistoric behemoth, but would also represent a first step towards preservation of endangered species.
Eminent geneticist George Church and his team at Harvard University spent the last years fiddling with mammoth DNA to identify genes distinguishing them from other elephants, including those for anti-freeze blood. They identified a number of those and already started splicing them into the genome of their closest living relative, the Asian elephant, using the revolutionary gene- editing tool CRISPR/Cas9. They were able to successfully splice 45 genes so far.
“The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments. We already know about ones to do with small ears, sub-cutaneous fat, hair and blood, but there are others that seem to be positively selected” said Prof George Church.
By splicing these genes the team is “basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab”, aiming to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid, capable of being implanted into a surrogate mother or an artificial womb. The newborn would not be a 100% mammoth per se, but would exhibit many of their characteristic traits. It could possibly even carry more mammoth-like offspring, bringing a pure breed closer in the future.
Resurrecting the mammoth would not only be one of the coolest scientific achievements ever, but would also represent a stepping stone on our way to preserving endangered species. This is becoming increasingly important due to the overwhelming, mostly man-made damage done to our planet.
“Elephants are an endangered species, and what if you could swap out a few genes for mammoth genes, not to bring the mammoth back but to allow them to live in colder climates” pointed out Dr Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth.