Harvard University scientists may be inching closer and closer to resurrecting the extinct woolly mammoth.
Scientists are trying to recreate the DNA of the woolly mammoth so that the giant mammal can be brought back to life. Woolly mammoths are believed to have become extinct about 4,000 years ago. Hunting by humans, climate change that led to the shrinkage of its habitat, and low reproduction rates are some of the causes that scientists believe led to the extinction of the woolly mammoth.
George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard, explained how his research involved using a new technique called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat), which can insert a mammoth's DNA sequence in a modern-day elephant genome.
With the help of CRISPR, the study was able to recreate a precise copy of 14 mammoth genes. The scientists prioritized the genes that were linked to cold resistance such as ear size, hairiness and subcutaneous fat.
The researchers inserted the genes of the mammoth into the cells of the Asian elephant, which is the closest living relative of the woolly mammoth.
CRISPR, the scientists say, allowed precise DNA editing, which involved removing the DNA parts of modern-day elephants then replacing them with the ones of the woolly mammoth.
"We now have functioning elephant cells with mammoth DNA in them," said Church.
Many woolly mammoth fossils have been discovered in various parts of the world. A previous report points out that in 2013 scientists found the well-preserved remains of a female woolly mammoth, which was nicknamed Buttercup. The remains of the ancient mammal were discovered frozen in the Maly Lyakhovsky Island of Siberia.
Buttercup remains one of the extremely well-preserved fossils of the woolly mammoth. Scientists found that the majority of the body, including the trunk, three legs and head, were still intact. The remains also had some flesh and liquid blood. Carbon dating revealed that the animal lived about 40,000 years ago.
While the remains of the ancient animal were well preserved, it is not easy to resurrect the giant mammal that roamed the Earth thousands of years ago.
Cloning the giant mammal remains a topic of heated debate in the scientific industry. Some groups raise ethical questions over resurrecting the ancient animal, while others believe that large animals like the woolly mammoth can help stabilize the ecosystem in parts of Russia.
Even though the scientists are a step closer to cloning the woolly mammoth, they have not published their study in any scientific journal as there is still a lot of research to be done.
Photo: Rob Pongsajapan | Flickr