At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston, it was mentioned that a team from Harvard could be just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo of the woolly mammoth.
This effort could be the first step towards resurrection of the extinct animal which vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago.
De-extinction of woolly mammoths has raised ethical concerns (c) Business Insider
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said Prof George Church told the Guardian
. “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.”
Using the powerful gene-editing tool called, Crispr, the mammoth genes may be spliced into the elephant DNA. According to the scientists, they have reached the cell stage, and are now moving towards creating embryos.
However, the experts clarified that they still have a long way to go. It would probably take many years before there would be any serious attempt at producing a living creature.
“We’re working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab,” said Church.
Researchers of the study began working in the lab in 2015. For now they have only increased the number of “edits”. From 15, the mammoth DNA has been spliced into the elephant genome to 45.
“We already know about ones to do with small ears, subcutaneous fat, hair and blood, but there are others that seem to be positively selected,” he said.
According to the researchers, the study could help preserve the Asian elephant, which is endangered, but in an altered form. The team is planning to grow the hybrid animal within an artificial womb rather than use a female elephant as a surrogate mother.
“We hope to do the entire procedure ex-vivo (outside a living body),” he said. “It would be unreasonable to put female reproduction at risk in an endangered species.”
Asian elephant are closely related to woolly mammoths and not African elephants (c) Wikipedia
The process of “de-extincting” isn't anymore extremely ambitious nowadays. Due to today's revolutionary gene editing techniques, it has allowed the precise selection and insertion of DNA from specimens frozen over millennia in Siberian ice.
According to Chruch, the study has two goals. First, it may secure an alternative future for the endangered Asian elephant. Second, Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, thus helping to the climate change.
However, not everyone agrees with the idea. Some scientists have raised their ethical concerns against the issue.
Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, said in a statement
, “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?”