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Woolly Mammoth: To Clone or Not to Clone, That is the Question?

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Cloning the extinct woolly mammoth has created a debate amongst scientists as some wants to clone the animal while others raise ethical questions.

In 2013, a group of scientists discovered the well-preserved remains of a female woolly mammoth, nicknamed Buttercup, frozen in the Maly Lyakhovsky Island of Siberia. The mammoth's remains are extremely well-preserved with the majority of the body, three legs, trunk and head still intact. Moreover, the scientists suggest that they also found some flesh and blood-like red liquid from the remains. Carbon dating of the remains revealed that the animal lived about 40,000 years ago.

The carcass has raised hopes for scientists who believe that if they find an intact cell nucleus from the remains, which contains the entire DNA instruction, they will be able to clone the woolly mammoth. Scientists explain that once they find the nucleus then they can put it in a modern day elephant's egg, sparked into cell division and then inserted into a surrogate mother elephant. The process can result in the birth of an animal very identical to the extinct woolly mammoth.

However, even though the remains are very well-preserved, the scientists are still in search of the required cells that can be used for cloning.

It is not impossible for scientists to clone an animal and Sooam Biotech Research Foundation of South Korea has also been cloning dogs for a few years. The foundation charges $100,000 for a dog clone and it is highly likely to clone the woolly mammoth if the required cells are found.

Scientists also raise ethical questions about cloning the woolly mammoth. Dr. Tori Herridge, a palaeobiologist who is based at the Natural History Museum in London, suggests that it will be cruel on modern day elephants.

Dr. Herridge explains that cloning will need an Asian surrogate elephant and the experiment may not be a success on the first instant. Many elephants may be used for the purpose to achieve success.

"Whether or not the justifications for cloning a mammoth are worth the suffering, the concerns of keeping an elephant in captivity, experimenting on her, making her go through a 22-month pregnancy, to potentially give birth to something which won't live, or to carry something which could be damaging to her. And all of those aspects... I don't think that they are worth it; the reasons just aren't there," says Dr. Herridge.

The discovery of the woolly mammoth's carcass along with the possibility of bringing the extinct animal back to life has been showed in an hour long documentary, titled "How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth," which will premiere in the U.S. on the Smithsonian Channel on Nov. 29. A modified version of the documentary will also be shown on UK's Channel 4 on Nov. 23 with the title "Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy." 

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