How would you feel about resurrecting a lost species? Say, the woolly mammoth?
This large, hairy beast went extinct about 4,000 years ago, fairly recently in the grand scheme of things. It coexisted with humans before its final population died out in the Arctic Ocean, on Wrangel Island.
But that may not be the end of its story. A group of Harvard scientists plan to make the woolly mammoth – or something like it – walk among humans again, perhaps even within the next two years.
The Telegraph reports that Professor George Church and his team have been busy at work “recreating the DNA blueprint of the mammoth.” To do so, they used frozen remains discovered in arctic permafrost, and compared the genes of woolly mammoths to those of modern elephants. They took note of their differences – which genes gave these mammoths their woolly coats, for example.
Their plan is to use this knowledge to combine mammoth and elephant DNA, adding the bits that make a woolly mammoth what it is, and growing one in an artificial womb.
In this way, the final product wouldn’t be a true mammoth, but rather an approximation of one. Church, speaking at this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, referred to it as a “hybrid elephant/mammoth embryo…more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits.”
It’s an interesting prospect, but who knows how these things work out? If science fiction has taught me anything, it’s that genetically engineering animals can be a messy business. We’ll see what happens.