Is it ever possible to create a cloned woolly mammoth or even a mammoth-elephant hybrid? A groundbreaking new experiment may pave the way for that.
Scientists from Japan and Russia successfully revived the cells of a 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth in a new research published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Led by Prof. Akira Iritani, a 90-year-old biologist from Kindai University, the team of researchers reactivated the cells of the woolly mammoth named Yuka by performing the process of nuclear transfer.
However, although the team reawakened the cells of the woolly mammoth, the study itself lacked the right tools to induce cell division, which could be necessary in creating woolly mammoth clones or a mammoth-elephant hybrid.
With more advanced equipment and well-preserved samples, scientists could potentially attempt to use mammoth DNA and potentially add them to elephant eggs which could create hybrids.
Kei Miyamoto, one of the researchers from Kindai University in Wakayama, Japan, said one of their dreams is to move the research forward to cell division.
Miyamoto said the team was able to use mouse embryo in the study, but because of possible ethical implications, however, there are no plans to repeat the experiment with an elephant embryo just yet.
"Collecting elephant eggs is difficult as you need to think of the animal's welfare," he told CNN.
Reviving The Cells Of An Ancient Woolly Mammoth
So how did the researchers reactivate the cells of the woolly mammoth Yuka?
Prof. Iritani, who has been working on the study for two decades now, was ecstatic when one night he saw the cells of the mammoth move under the microscope. The well-preserved specimen that Prof. Iritani examined came from the Siberian permafrost and was discovered seven years ago.
The professor and his team collected at least 88 nucleus-like structures from the woolly mammoth's muscle tissue. Afterward, they added these structures into mouse oocytes, which simulated embryonic development in female mice.
To see how the mammoth cells would react, Iritani used live-cell imaging technique. He was then able to see some biological activity. In fact, although the mammoth DNA did not facilitate cell division, the experiment activated the process known as spindle assembly, where the DNA get attached to several spindle structures. This occurs ahead of the division of the parent cell from the daughter cells.
Saving Species And Saving The Climate
Another hindrance to the study was the fact that although the woolly mammoth cells were well-preserved, it was also damaged. If scientists plan to replicate the research with elephant embryo, they will need an even more advanced version of gene-editing technology such as CRISPR and higher quality woolly mammoth cells.
Such equipment and material could help researchers determine if modern elephants could survive in massive swaths of cold or dry land in areas of the world where woolly mammoths used to reside. Scientists said such studies could find out if modern elephants could help curb climate.
George Church, a geneticist from Harvard University who was not involved in the recent study, explained that elephants helped keep the climate stable in significant ways. For instance, these animals knocked down trees that kept the cold air in the ground, and they also helped grow grass and reflect sunlight during summer.
Meanwhile, Prof. Iritani said his main goal in this study is to preserve endangered or even extinct species.
"It's because of people that certain animals have gone extinct," he added.