With elephants on the road to extinction, scientists are scrambling to save them by creating an artificial mammoth-elephant hybrid in a lab.

The Mammoth-Elephant Connection

Renowned geneticist George Church and his team of researchers at the Harvard University announced that they have recreated the genetic blueprint of the woolly mammoth. They have spent 11 years researching the subject.

Church and the researchers "resurrected" 44 genes from the woolly mammoth that carry specific traits like a shaggy coat and "antifreeze" blood. Elephants currently lack these traits.

Woolly mammoths were hunted to extinction nearly 4,000 years ago by humans. Climate change was also a likely culprit behind the demise of the woolly mammoth. Although the woolly mammoth was roughly the same size of the African elephant, its closest living relative is the Asian elephant.

Scientists hope to use use the woolly mammoth genes to give elephants a chance at survival.

Why Are Scientists Doing It?

There are many reasons why researchers are interested in using woolly mammoth genes for the elephants. The first reason is to help elephants survive colder weather. Wolly mammoths were able to survive the ice age because their genes were adapted to the harsh conditions.

"My goal is not to bring back the mammoth, it is to bring back mammoth genes and show that they work and that we have already done it," Church said.

The biggest threat to the survival of elephants are poachers who hunt the animals for their ivory tusks. Researchers hope that the mammoth-elephant hybrid will be created without the tusks to prevent poaching. To achieve this, researchers are also planning to insert some non-mammoth genes into the hybrid.

 "If we get this thing out into the wild, it will be more than just a cold resistant elephant, it won't be limited to mammoth genes," Church said.

DNA from other animals will allow the elephants to consume a wider diet, which will also increase their chances of survival.

How Are Scientists Creating The Hybrid?

As an initial step, the researchers will not grow the entire hybrid in the lab. Instead, the goal will be to grow an embryo through in vitro fertilization.

The researchers are proposing the creation of a "vascularised decidua" from the stem cells of a small creature like a mouse through a test. Mice are preferred for this type of test because they only have a 20-day gestation period, as opposed to the 22-month gestation period of an elephant.

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