Wondering why are scientists trying to bring back the woolly mammoth? Well, in a desperate attempt to restore the ecosystem, scientists and geneticists are trying to recreate the woolly mammoth of the ice age.
There is a high possibility that Manny and Ellie from the Ice Age movie series might soon walk down the surface of Earth again. Yes, you read it right. Scientists of the genetics and biosciences firm, Colossal are trying to recreate the woolly mammoth.
Geneticists are attempting to use CRISPR gene-editing technology to insert the DNA of an extinct mammoth into the genome of an Asiatic elephant. DNA sequencing will help to recreate a hybrid embryo of elephant and mammoth. This animal will have a close resemblance to elephants, but they will have a woolly mammoth’s size, along with its head structure. The recreated hybrid will also be furrier like the woolly mammoth but will have smaller ears.
George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer of novel approaches to gene editing, said, “our goal is to make a cold-resistant elephant, but it’s appearance and behaviour will be like a mammoth’s.”
Ben Lamm, a tech entrepreneur and co-founder at Colossal, said that humanity has never before been able to “harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems.” He further added that bringing back woolly mammoths will help restore Earth’s habitable climate.
How are geneticists planning to accomplish this mammoth task in six years?
The DNA samples to be used has been collected from mammoth tusks, bones, and other body parts preserved in ice. The woolly mammoth’s DNA would be inserted into the embryos. These embryos will be created in the lab.
The initial steps include taking Asiatic elephants’ skin cells, which would then be reprogrammed into stem cells carrying the extinct mammoth’s DNA. Before this, scientists would have already performed genome sequencing on the mammoth’s pre-extracted genomes. This will help identify the genes responsible for making a mammoth’s furry coat, fat insulation layers, and other characteristic features.
These embryos will then be either carried by a surrogate elephant mother or developed in an artificial womb.
So far, Colossal has managed to raise 15 million USD from investors. Six years is the time period that scientists have for the creation of the first calves.
According to Harvard University geneticist George Church, it is unclear at this point whether Asiatic elephants will interbreed with the elephant-mammoth hybrids. But that is the ultimate goal, as per Ben Lamm.
Woolly mammoth’s role in ecological conservation
So, why scientists are embarking upon the journey of recreating the 4,000 years old extinct colossal mammoth?
Well, they are doing so to conserve the endangered Asiatic elephants so that they can thrive in the Arctic. The elephant-mammoth hybrid might also help repair the degrading Arctic tundra and reverse the effects of the climate crisis. These new gigantic animals may help revitalise Arctic grasslands by knocking down trees that mammoths are thought to enjoy doing.
The Harvard University geneticists also believe that this project has the potential to improve biodiversity besides conserving the environment.
The downsides of woolly mammoth’s de-extinction
In one way, the woolly mammoth might pave the way to conserve the environment and combat the climate crisis. This project has the potential to restore the Mammoth Steppe and prevent permafrost thaw. But every action has its reactions.
Bringing back the woolly mammoth might come with its own challenges. Some researchers believe that de-extinction programs are expensive, and there is no guarantee that they will achieve the end results soon. As per the UN, one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. So, instead people can use this money to prevent the extinction of multiple plant and animal species by various other ways.
Recreating the elephant-mammoth hybrid might even lead to exposure to newer pathogens, which could destabilise the environment further and threaten all living species.
Evolutionary biologist at UK’s Natural History Museum, Dr Victoria Herridge, argued that geoengineering and revival of the Arctic’s environment using mammoths might be improbable.
Colossal, the genetics and biosciences company, aims to fix the problem of de-extinction. Colossal has the advanced gene-editing technology to assist in the creation of the lost megafauna. World-renowned geneticist George Church and tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm are the leading heads of Colossal. Their vision and mission involves creating a better world and restoration of the fragile ecosystem.
About Mammuthus primigenius
Woolly mammoths existed between 5 million years to 4,000 years before going extinct. These were warm-blooded, herbivore mammals adapted to survive in extreme cold climatic conditions. Characterised by heights of 9 to 11 feet and two large inverted, curling tusks, these mammoths had soft upper ridges at the back.
About Asiatic elephants
Elephas maximus or Asiatic elephants are the largest terrestrial animals primarily found in Asia. They can be up to 9 ft tall and have smaller ears. Listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List, half of their population has already declined.
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