Don’t say we didn’t warn you. In previous interesting articles, various possibilities were mooted. Now a hairy professor at Harvard University, in the US, is planning to speed up our reincarnation of the hairiest animal that ever lived-the Woolly Mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius. Quite closely related to the Asian Elephas and descended from the African Loxodonta, mammoths differ in their cold-tolerance by virtue of around 14 alleles in their genome from that of their closest relative.
Professor George Church plans to insert these genes into Asian elephant embryos and study how they develop. His viewpoint is that we have caused so much extinction, the means of recreating recently extinct (about 3,300 years only according to remains on Wrangel Island in Siberia) species should be a useful technology. The name of the worthy-enough game is
De-extinction. Genetic engineers in Japan and Russia have been longing to slip a working genome of the mammoth into the Elephas egg for years. Here is our story on the discovery of the little mammoth, Yuka. Cutting short the time for such progress will bring us mammephants with thick hair and subcutaneous fat, small ears and special haemoglobin, in a short time.
Already, the 14 alleles function well with the elephant genome. Using the related species as a template is a much better idea, possibly, than using the actual elephant genome + 14 definitive genes. That is yet to be achieved, but this kind of animal will be so close to a mammoth, we probably won’t be able to detect much difference. Author, Beth Shapiro, has cashed in on this odd Mammoth Race by writing a book,
How to Clone a Mammoth. From the University of California, she will advertise her theories on May 21st at the Royal Institution in London.
Realism would be a useful injection into the DNA of those working on genetic projects such as these. Disease research has certainly benefited from genome studies and bacterial modification. The future of some genetic engineering is very bright. To consider our depleted ecosystems as suitable for reconstruction by large mammals is another situation altogether, While disease would normally only be eradicated, the precious habitats that we are losing could be as damaged as many others by anthropogenic introduction. It is interesting that Professor Church doesn’t intend publishing his Crispr technique yet, apart from noting the precision editing he employs with the elephant DNA.
The conclusion? We need finance for conservation, not reincarnation. The mammoth could be a useful consumer on the melting and emptying tundra, but donors would be needed to extend the experiment over centuries. The project is not simply a flash in the pan, doomed to neglect when senior scientists die off, like the mammoth. If we need more creatures on earth, perhaps it is a sad truth that if they have died out, they had their chance, and they lost. Very few will get this chance, including almost all of those becoming extinct right now.