National Geographic News asked Hendrik Poinar, a molecular evolutionary geneticist and biological anthropologist at the Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, if we might soon see the gigantic land mammals roaming the steppe again. Poinar will speak about the emerging technology at the TEDx Conference on DeExtinction in Washington this month.
"People were painting pictures of woolly mammoths in caves in France 35,000 years ago, so we have this amazing history with them," Poinar said.
Poinar's team isolates DNA and proteins from fossils and preserved remains, and then uses sophisticated sequencing and analysis tools to answer questions about species extinctions, evolution, and even the spread of infectious diseases. Poinar has tested relatively well-preserved samples from mammoth carcasses uncovered in the Yukon and Siberia. The mammoth remains had been entombed in the permafrost (permanently frozen ground), so degradation of their DNA had been slowed over time, Poinar explained.