Scientists say that they are close to resurrecting the woolly mammoth, which went extinct around 4,000 years ago. With the help of genetic engineering, mammoth could come back to life once again in the next two years.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” explains Professor George Church during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston. “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.”
If they could accomplish this, the scientists would create the mammoth with small ears, long shaggy hair, subcutaneous fat and ability to adapt to cold climates. The scientists would take the genes of the mammoth and combine it with an elephant DNA with the help of Crispr, a gene-editing tool.
Initially, the scientists stopped the process at the cell stage. However, they are now planning to move into developing embryos. Still, they admit that it would be years before a living creature could be born.
The hybrid animal would be grown inside an artificial womb rather than the womb of a female Asian elephant. Risking an endangered species is not reasonable, the experts say.
However, some believe that this ex-vivo procedure would not be possible within the next ten years. However, Church says that they already attempted to grow a mouse embryo in an artificial womb before, the Guardian reports.
The news may have been welcomed by many but others have also raised some ethical concerns. As Matthew Cobb explained: “The proposed ‘de-extinction’ of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue – the mammoth was not simply a set of genes, it was 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?” said Cobb, who is a professor of zoology at the University of Manchester.
Nevertheless, Church says that the project aims to do two things. One is to guarantee a better future for the endangered Asian elephant and fight global warming.
The resurrected mammoths could keep the tundra from thawing and allow cold air to come in. When the tundra permafrost melts, a massive amount of greenhouse gases get released into the atmosphere. The mammoths would also “knock down trees and help the grass grow,” which can also combat global warming.