Harvard scientists are working to resurrect the woolly mammoth through genetic engineering, 4000 years after its extinction.
The lead researcher of the experience, want to achieve it by genetic engineering elephant embryos with gene from the woolly mammoth, creating a hybrid species very close to the original animal. To achieve this, they have spliced genes extracted from frozen woolly mammoth’s frozen remains, and plan to combine it with the Asian elephant.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo”, said to The Guardian, George Church, the lead researcher of the Harvard University Woolly Mammoth Revival team. “It would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits”, he added.
Of course, these first hybrid embryos won’t be exactly woolly mammoths, but they will be the closest animal alive, and with time and trials, it will eventually come very close to the ancient animal.
The project started back in 2015, and if it is accomplished, even only as a species with small details of the extinct animal, will still be a huge step forward in the revival of extinct species. The mammoth DNA was extracted from remains found frozen at Siberia.
The team will edit the DNA and insert the cells on the nucleus of a fertile female elephant egg. The eggs will then be artificially stimulated to develop into embryos.
The team is planning to grow the egg in the laboratory in an artificial womb, instead of transplanting them back into the female Asian Elephants. “It would be unreasonable to put female reproduction at risk in an endangered species”, said Church.
The big challenge besides the DNA editing itself, is that no mammals ever have been grown to term outside of the womb until now, so no one knows yet if the artificial womb will be ready when the early embryos do, but still, Church says he is confident all will go well, since his team, already manage to use artificial wombs to grow mice embryos.
Church will present his team’s latest research at the AAAS 2017 meeting, that will take place this week.