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The Rise of the Ancient Beast: Harvard Team to De-extinct Woolly Mammoths in 2 Years

Feb 17, 2017 09:30 AM EST
Woolly mammoth
LAS VEGAS - SEPTEMBER 30: A woolly mammoth skeleton with 90 percent of its original bones is displayed at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino September 30, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(Photo : Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A team of scientists from Harvard claims that there are just two years away from resurrecting the woolly mammoth with the help of cutting-edge genetic engineering.

According to the report from the Huffington Post, the main goal of the researchers is not to de-extinct the mammoth species per se, but to incorporate some of its trait to its closest living relative.

Prof. George Church, the scientist leading the de-extinction team, said in a report from The Guardian that they aim to produce an embryo of an elephant-mammoth hybrid.

"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," Church further explained.

For their project, the researchers used the powerful CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool to splice mammoth genes to the DNA of Asian elephants. By doing so, the researchers could create some sort of hybrid between mammoth and elephant.

Dubbed as "mammophant," the hybrid is expected to be partly elephant but will have mammoth-like features, including small ears, shaggy coat and subcutaneous blood. The researchers also expect the mammophant to have cold-resistant blood.

Church noted that adding mammoth traits to the Asian elephant's DNA could contribute to the survival of the elephant in cold environments. So far, the researchers were able recreate 45 of the mammoth genes into the elephant DNA. These edits have something to do with ears, extra fat, hair and blood of the elephant.

The next step for the researchers is to produce an embryo. Until now, the researchers are only doing their editing at the cell stage. Once they have developed a hybrid embryo, the researchers plan to make it grow within an artificial womb ex-vivo. Church noted that it is unreasonable to put the female reproduction of an endangered species for an experimental process.

Asian elephants are currently listed as "Endangered" under the IUCN Red List. They are now considered extinct in West Asia, Java and most of China.

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