Woolly mammoth on verge of resurrection, scientists reveal

Feb 21, 2017

By Hannah Devlin

The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering.

Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the “de-extinction” effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant.

“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said Prof George Church. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”

The creature, sometimes referred to as a “mammophant”, would be partly elephant, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes for these traits are spliced into the elephant DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr.

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4 comments on “Woolly mammoth on verge of resurrection, scientists reveal

  • With global warming accelerating, receding glaciers and ice at the poles and raising sea levels, wouldn’t it make more sense to genetically engineer a polar bearphin (hybrid polar bear-dolphin embryo)?

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  • They’d be awesome in the car, head poked out of the window, fur streaming…

    OK. Now I have to do a treatment for the Disney movie. Geneticist father makes daughter the ultimate pet to trump her spoiled brat of a “friend” who keeps acing her with ever fancier and more expensive pets. Only problem, orange furred “Trump” as he becomes called, can’t be house trained and is very naughty and destructive and eventually has to be carted off to a desert island…

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  • @OP link – Gene editing and its ethical implications is one of the key topics under discussion at the Boston conference.

    Church, a guest speaker at the meeting, said the mammoth project had two goals: securing an alternative future for the endangered Asian elephant and helping to combat global warming. Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

    This article (linked below) suggests there may be a problem with the mammoth DNA.


    The last woolly mammoths to walk the Earth were so wracked with genetic disease that they lost their sense of smell, shunned company, and had a strange shiny coat.

    That’s the verdict of scientists who have analysed ancient DNA of the extinct animals for mutations.

    The studies suggest the last mammoths died out after their DNA became riddled with errors.

    The knowledge could inform conservation efforts for living animals.

    There are fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetahs left in the wild, while the remaining mountain gorilla population is estimated at about 300. The numbers are similar to those of the last woolly mammoths living on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean around 4,000 years ago.

    Dr Rebekah Rogers of the University of California, Berkeley, who led the research, said the mammoths’ genomes “were falling apart right before they went extinct”.

    This, she said, was the first case of “genomic meltdown” in a single species.

    “You had this last refuge of mammoths after everything has gone extinct on the mainland,” she added.

    “The mathematical theories that have been developed said that they should accumulate bad mutations because natural selection should become very inefficient.”

    The researchers analysed genetic mutations found in the ancient DNA of a mammoth from 4,000 years ago. They used the DNA of a mammoth that lived about 45,000 years ago, when populations were much larger, as a comparison.

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