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Scientists May Be Able to Bring Back Extinct Woolly Mammoth

Mar 25, 2015 08:32 PM EDT
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Scientists may be able to bring back the long extinct woolly mammoth after pasting its DNA into the elephant's genetic code.

It's been 3,000 years since the mammoth was wiped out from the face of the Earth, and now for the first time the genes of these ancient animals are alive again - at least, in the lab.

A team from Harvard University, led by Professor George Church, has managed to insert 14 mammoth genes into the live DNA of a modern elephant, which could create hybrid elephants capable of living in colder climates. The mammoth DNA was acquired from frozen specimens found on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea - the last living animals until around 3,300 years ago.

"We prioritized genes associated with cold resistance including hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially," Church told The Sunday Times.

Asian elephants are already closely related to woolly mammoths, so scientists didn't need to create an entire new cell to bring back this ancient behemoth. Instead the unique technique - called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat) - allows them to make specific edits to DNA and copy and paste in certain bits of code.

"We now have functioning elephant cells with mammoth DNA in them," Church said. "We have not published it in a scientific journal because there is more work to do, but we plan to do so."

While this doesn't mean that woolly mammoths will be stomping around Earth any time soon, it does bring us one step closer to resurrecting the species.

Some scientists even want to clone one of these massive, long-extinct beasts using well-preserved specimens that have been found in the past. But for now, at least for Church and his colleagues, they hope to create elephant/mammoth embryos that will be raised as elephants in colder climates - areas out of the reach of human influence.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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