A team of scientists from Harvard University announced that they it might only take them two years to create a hybrid embryo of woolly mammoth. If they tried to fully resurrect a woolly mammoth, it might take them a little longer.
For the process, they planned to use the genome editing system CRISPR-Cas9 to extract mammoth traits from elephant cells, create a hybrid embryo, grow it to a fetal form and then bring it to full term.
George Church, geneticist at Harvard University, talked about their project which he called “de-extinction”. He explained that they wanted to create an elephant – mammoth hybrid embryo or, more precisely, an elephant embryo that held some mammoth traits.
The scientists plan to add specific mammoth traits into the genome of the Asian elephant (thus obtaining the term “mammophant”). The traits include cold-adjusted blood, thick layers of fat, and woolly long hair.
The project started in 2015 and, so far, they have added 45 edits of mammoth-resembling DNA into the genomes of the elephants. The majority of edits are meant to boost the elephants’ resistance in cold environments.
The next step is for them to produce an embryo of elephant that holds many mammoth-specific traits. The researchers added that they were planning to perform the entire process outside of a living creature, since they could not afford risking on such an endangered creature as the Asian elephant is.
Some may say that growing a hybrid embryo in an artificial womb is impossible. However, in an experiment conducted by Church, they were able to incubate a mouse for half of its gestation period.
This experiment has its ethical concerns. Many accused Church and his team that it was unethical to use an endangered species for such a risky experiment, but they declared that this might actually help in the reviving of the Asian elephant populations through some alternative means.
Also, other scientists wonder if the mammoth should actually be brought back to life. Matthew Cobb, a zoology professor, warned that the mammoth, just like his living far-relative Asian elephant, is a social being, and might surprise researchers with the way it might interact with other living creatures.
Moreover, other professors and researchers are concerned that these “de-extinction” attempts might make people forget that they have to take some conservation measures and no longer protect existing species. They say that, if people know that extinct animals can be brought back to life by humans, they will no longer take care that these animals should not become extinct in the first place.
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