Genetics project aims to ‘resurrect’ woolly mammoths within the next six years | Science & Tech News



Woolly mammoths could be “resurrected” within six years as part of a genetic engineering project trying to reverse extinction.

The animals that roamed the Arctic were wiped out about 4,000 years ago – but a firm partnering with a renowned Harvard geneticist has raised $15m to try to bring them back.

Colossal’s “de-extinction” project aims to slow or even halt the effects of climate change by developing a working model for restoring damaged or lost ecosystems.

The skeletton of a woolly mammoth stands in an exhibition of the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany, 7 October 2016. The skeletton is to be disassembled by texidermists and trasported to Jena, where it is going to be restored at the institute for special zoology and evolutionary biology of the Friedrich-Schiller-University. The mammoth was found in 1953 in the lignite mine Braunsbedra. Photo by: Hendrik Schmidt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
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The skeleton of a woolly mammoth was displayed in an exhibition at the State Museum of Prehistory in Germany. Pic: AP

The DNA sequences of woolly mammoths collected from well-preserved remains in the permafrost and frozen steppes will be inserted into the genome of Asian elephants to create an “elephant-mammoth hybrid”.

The animal will be genetically engineered with traits to help it survive in the Arctic.

This is expected to be successful partly because Asian elephants and woolly mammoths share a 99.6% similar DNA makeup, according to Colossal.

The DNA of woolly mammoths has been extracted from parts of mammoth tusks, bones, teeth and hair that scientists have spent years recovering.

Colossal told National Geographic that the first hybrid calf is expected in six years, while a self-sustaining herd could take decades.

Ben Lamm, the company’s chief executive and an emerging technology entrepreneur, said: “Never before has humanity been able to harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems, heal our Earth and preserve its future through the repopulation of extinct animals.”

A synthetic wooly mammoth and real musk ox occupy a glacier exhibit inside the Bell Museum in Falcon Heights, Minn. on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The mammoth's fur was made by the same company that made the costume for the Star Wars character Chewbacca. Evan Frost | MPR News
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Synthetic woolly mammoths are frequently exhibited in museums and show what scientists think the animals looked like. Pic: AP

He said Colossal will be able to bring back ancient extinct species and use their technologies to help preserve critically endangered species that are on the verge of extinction.

The company will “restore animals where humankind has had a hand in their demise”, he added.

Colossal said resurrecting the beasts could revitalise the Arctic grasslands, which play a role in combatting climate change by capturing and storing carbon and controlling methane in the atmosphere.

Professor George Church, the geneticist at Harvard University who co-founded the company, plans to use a Nobel prize-winning gene-editing technology called CRISPR, which he pioneered.

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CRISPR allows scientists to alter DNA sequences and tweak gene function for purposes such as correcting genetic defects or making crops more resilient.

“Technologies discovered in pursuit of this grand vision – a living, walking proxy of a woolly mammoth – could create very significant opportunities in conservation and beyond,” he said.

The cold-resistant herbivores were once hunted by early humans, who ate their meat and used their tusks and bones as tools.

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