Woolly Mammoth Cloning Research
“Preparations to realize this goal have been made,” Akira Iritani, leader of the team and a professor emeritus of Kyoto University, told the mass-circulation daily.
Under the plan, the nuclei a mammoths cells will be inserted into an elephant’s egg cell from which the nuclei have been removed, to create an embryo containing the mammoths genes, the report said. The embryo will then be inserted into an elephant’s uterus in the hope that the animal will eventually give birth to a baby mammoth. The elephant is the closest modern relative of the mammoths species, a huge woolly mammal believed to have died out with the last Ice Age. Some mammoth remains still retain usable tissue samples, making it possible to recover cells for cloning, unlike dinosaurs, which disappeared around 65 million years ago and whose remains exist only as fossils.
The team, which has invited a Russian mammoth researcher and two US elephant experts to join the project, has established a technique to extract DNA from frozen cells, previously an obstacle to cloning attempts because of the damage cells sustained in the freezing process. Another Japanese researcher, Teruhiko Wakayama of the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology, succeeded in 2008 in cloning a mouse from the cells of another that had been kept in temperatures similar to frozen ground for 16 years. The scientists extracted a cell nucleus from an organ of a dead mouse and planted it into the egg of another mouse which was alive, leading to the birth of the cloned mouse. Based on Wakayama’s techniques, Iritani’s team devised a method to extract the nuclei of mammoths eggs without damaging them.
But a successful cloning will also pose challenges for the team, Iritani warned. “If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed (the mammoth) and whether to display it to the public,” Iritani said. “After the mammoth is born, we will examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors.”
More than 80 percent of all mammoths finds have been dug up in the permafrost of the vast Sakha Republic in eastern Siberia. Exactly why a majority of the huge creatures that once strode in large herds across Eurasia and North America died out towards the end of the last Ice Age has generated fierce debate, with some of the experts claiming that mammoths were hunted to extinction by our ancestors, while others claim that climate change was more to blame, leaving a species adapted for frozen climes ill-equipped to cope with a warming world.
Whichever way you look at it, they are gone, the woolly mammoth, but with this new technology now, maybe we will once again see these behemoths roaming the planet again, which I’m not so sure is a good thing, or a bad thing at this point. It does, however, make for some interesting science!