Resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth

Genetic cloning and genetic engineering have made many leaps in the past few years with the de-extinction of prehistoric animals. Specifically, researchers have looking into bringing back the woolly mammoth.

Photo credit to: Sporst

Photo credit to: Sporst

One of the main reasons that we protect endangered species is to protect the ecosystem and the environment. If frogs suddenly went extinct then snakes, birds, fish, and other animals might not find food so they would start to die off. Eventually if this goes to the extreme humans will have a hard time getting food. Another reason to keep these animals alive is that they keep our planet healthy. One study was done that shows that the woolly mammoths would have kept the Arctic as a grassland. “Mammoths and other large herbivores trampling across the ancient Arctic ecosystems helped maintain the grasslands by knocking down trees and spreading grass seeds in the dung,” David Shultz says in his article: Should we bring extinct species back from the dead?

Scientists have been working on multiple ways to bring these creatures to life. The main ways of cloning are reproductive, gene, and therapeutic. Reproductive cloning has shown significant advancements when dealing with partial bits of DNA. If you don’t know what reproductive cloning is, it is putting mature cells from the one thing that will be cloned onto an egg that had the DNA removed from it. They do this in hopes that the cells planted there will reproduce because there is no other DNA to mess with the clone.

One other way that scientists have been working on creating this beast is to make a mammoth-elephant hybrid. Since the Asian elephant shares 99 percent of its DNA with the mammoths it is a great candidate for a hybrid. The way that they do this is synthetic biology. They take the genes and slice them and mix them, so they become one genetic code.

Depending on what is being replicated determines the amount of time that it takes. Scientists have already made exact clones of mice, cows, sheep, chickens, dogs, cats, monkeys, and more. On average it takes about 116-121 days to get the animal past nursing using reproductive cloning. The time until we have a clone of a woolly mammoth depends on how you want to look at the animal itself. If you are only looking for an elephant hybrid with some mammoth genes mixed into it then it will take less time than if you were to have only mammoth DNA and nothing else. According to AP Biology student Jonathan Buck the recreated mammoth must be “a living breathing member of that species with the same behavior patterns for it to be truly considered a revival of the species”. This will take more time than just genetically modifying an elephant with some mammoth genes.

Photo credit to: IJReid

Photo credit to: IJReid

One of the downfalls of bringing back species from the dead are the associated cost. Who is going to pay to keep these species alive: government or private companies? If the same amount of money was used to prevent de-extinction, then there would be about two to eight times more animals saved. Knowing that we must weigh the options of spend the money to bring one species back and sustain them or prevent the extinction of multiple others. As of right now private organizations are funding the research to bring these beasts back.

“The resurrection of the woolly mammoth is the first manifestation of something much bigger,” Frei says. “You can't say where this is all going, but it will be definitely the next big technological evolution.” Sarah Pruitt quotes in her article about how close we are to cloning the Woolly Mammoth.

Nicholas Holden