New gene editing technology called “CRISPR/Cas9” is responsible for some pretty significant developments. Recently researchers have used the technique to cure sickle cell disease, fight famine, and even cut out cancer. Now, the gene editing tool could even bring species back from extinction – and scientists say it could happen for the Woolly Mammoth within the next two years.
Professor George Church and his team at Harvard University have been studying the DNA from frozen mammoths found preserved in the Arctic. Specifically, they’ve been looking for genes that separated them from elephants. Professor George Church believes the genome from a modern elephant can be combined with genes from a woolly mammoth to create a "mammoth-like" creature:
Since elephant species are currently on the brink of extinction, the team is attempting to splice mammoth DNA into the genome of an elephant embryo in order to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid. The goal is to eventually grow a mammoth embryo within an artificial womb, as to not compromise the reproductive system of a healthy elephant.
Professor Church stated, Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant/mammoth embryo. 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.
In the Royal BC Museum in Victoria (Canada). The display is from 1979, and the fur is musk ox hair.
As awesome as playing Ice Age Jurassic Park sounds, there are also other preventative applications for this technology. According to Dr. Edze Westra of the University of Exeter:
One can also use this technology for engineering the DNA of rapidly declining species or those that are becoming too inbred to increase their chance of survival.
Fake Mammoth in ZOO Dvůr Králové, Czech Republic.
An almost perfectly-preserved female mammoth has gone on display in Moscow. Scientists say mammoth age is 39,000 years old and speculate on how the ancient creature died, and what she can reveal about the extinct species:
Professor Church said the mammoth project has two main goals: securing an alternative future for the endangered Asian elephant and helping to combat global warming. Chruch explains that the animals could, “keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in. In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.”
Any of these possibilities are well worth the continued research. Technology is allowing for the impossible to become reality. Just a few years ago, we couldn’t have dreamed of an extinct animal brought back, and now we could be within a few years of actually seeing that.
Skeleton of Columbian mammoth, Mammuthus columbi, in the George C. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California.
George Church is Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Director of PersonalGenomes.org, providing the world's only open-access information source for human Genomic, Environmental & Trait data (GET). His 1984 Harvard PhD included the first methods for direct genome sequencing, molecular multiplexing, barcoding & automation. These lead to the first commercial genome sequence (pathogen, Helicobacter pylori) in 1994 . His innovations in "next generation" genome sequencing and synthesis & cell/tissue engineering resulted in 12 companies including medical genomics (Knome, Alacris, AbVitro, GoodStart, Pathogenica), synthetic biology (LS9, Joule , Gen9, Warp Drive) as well as new privacy, biosafety & biosecurity policies: