Harvard Scientists Are Cloning Woolly Mammoths to Save Humanity
Cloning dinosaurs for entertainment didn't turn out so well in Jurassic Park, but some scientists believe that resurrecting another extinct species from a more recent era (and for a more worthy cause) could have better results.
Using DNA from a woolly mammoth specimen found perfectly preserved in ice in Siberia, Harvard scientist George Church is working to create a herd of mammoth-elephant hybrids that will help to save the world.
The donor mammoth is a small female named Lyuba who died just over 41,000 years ago.
Lyuba is believed to have been only a few weeks old when she fell in a water hole and choked on mud. She was found in 2007 by a family of reindeer herders and eventually made her way to London's Natural History Museum.
Church and the rest of the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival team are hard at work identifying the parts of Lyuba's DNA that, when edited into living elephants, would create a hybrid capable of surviving the tundra. The first hybrid would be grown in an artificial womb like the one used to grow baby sheep.
Church hopes reintroducing the herds to the world would undo some of the damage to the environment caused by humans.
"Without large animals to compact and scrape away thick insulating layers of winter snow, extreme winter cold does not penetrate the soil," explains the non-profit organization Revive & Restore.
"That fact, coupled with significantly warmer summers, accelerates the melting of the permafrost and the release of greenhouse gases that have been trapped for millennia...The introduction of grazers to tundra generates a nutrient cycle that allows grasses to out-compete the tundra flora, converting the ecosystem in a manner that then favors the persistence of grazers and grasses."
Revive & Restore introduced George Church to Nikita and Sergey Zimov, the creators of the Pleistocene Park in northern Siberia where his mammoths could one day live.
The 20,000-hectare park is already home to bison, reindeer, moose, and other wildlife, so the mammophants (as they should be called) will have some company.
So far, Church and his team have successfully engineered mutations for hair growth, fat production, and climate adaptations, but it will be a while before they have perfected the genome, produced embryos, and start growing their hairy army.