Scientists think they can resurrect the wooly mammoth in two years.
The revolutionary gene editing technique referred to as CRISPR/Cas9 has been used by researchers for some important purposes over the years. It has been used to cure sickle cell anemia, fight famine and has even reduced cancer rates. Now researchers at Harvard University are putting the technology to an entirely different use – they are attempting to save endangered animals from existence. As if that wasn’t astounding enough, the first step in their highly ambitious project is to resurrect the extinct wooly mammoth within the space of two years.
Professor George Church and the rest of the team at Harvard University have been extensively studying the DNA recovered from specimens of perfectly preserved wooly mammoths recovered from the Arctic. They have now determined that the wooly mammoths are very closely related to the endangered species of Asian elephants.
The next stage of the project will involve attempting to splice mammoth DNA into the genome of as Asian elephant embryo. It hoped that this would create a mammoth-elephant hybrid embryo which could be implanted in an artificial womb. According to Professor Church, “Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant/mammoth embryo. It would be more like an elephant with some mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”
While the announcement is sure to raise Jurassic Park comparisons, Professor Church’s team have very noble reasons for embarking on this ambitious project. Professor Church sad that the mammoth project had the potential to save the endangered elephants from extinction and could also help to combat global warming. Professor Church said that the elephant-mammoth hybrid could act in a similar way to the ancient mammoths which kept the tundra from thawing out by punching through the snow and allowing the circulation of cold air.
The work of the team has huge implications for other endangered animals. Some animals have been reduced to very small populations which means that they have no choice than to breed within familial groupings. The inbreeding has resulted in congenital issues for these animals which harm their chances of survival in the long term. It is possible that their extinct close ancestors could provide a chance for their gene pools to be revitalized, giving these endangered animals a fighting chance to survive.