Will Russian Scientists Clone Baby Siberian Mammoth?
Why did wooly mammoths become extinct?
Many scientists believe that the ancient pachyderms became extinct about 10,000 years ago because of climactic changes that drastically reduced their food sources. Although only about a hundred mammoth specimens have been found throughout the world over the years, it is believed that as many as ten million mammoths may be buried in permanently frozen Russian soil.
How has the discovery of the baby mammoth in Siberia altered scientific thinking?
Previously, scientists believed that wooly mammoths were one large homogeneous group, but the mitochondrial DNA extracted from frozen hair samples from different specimens found in northern Siberia suggests two distinct groups of mammoths. Specimens within each distinct group were all very closely related, a surprising fact considering the wide geographic range of the mammoth, which extended from Western Europe to the Bering Strait and across to North America.
How will scientists clone this baby mammoth and why?
Scientists hope to clone this baby Siberian mammoth by fusing the nucleus of a mammoth cell with an elephant egg cell stripped of its DNA. According to the deputy of the director of Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexei Tikhonov:
“This mammoth does not have any defects except for the fact that its tail was bitten off. In terms of the state of preservation, it is the most valuable discovery of this kind in the world”.
It is thought that by injecting the sperm DNA of a frozen mammoth into a female elephant and repeating the procedure with subsequent offspring, that a creature 88% mammoth could be produced within fifty years. Mammoths had 58 chromosomes and elephants have only 56, but researchers think crossbreeding may still be possible. The biggest hurdle is to find a way to fertilize an elephant and the hope is that frozen sperm can be used for artificial insemination. Using frozen sperm is a common practice in the livestock industry, but no one is quite sure about the effectiveness of 10,000 year old sperm.
“This is possible with the modern technology we already have,” said Akira Iritani, who is chairman of the genetic engineering department at Kinki University in Japan and a member of the Mammoth Creation Project. He has, however perhaps gone a step too far, as he has already selected a preserve for living mammoths in northern Siberia. This “Pleistocene Park” would feature extinct species of deer, woolly rhinoceroses and maybe even saber-toothed cats, along with the mammoths.
Jurassic Park, are you really fiction or are you art imitating life that actually waits in the wings of time?
Time and the cold hand of technology will tell.
M Dee Dubroff