Bringing Back the Woolly Mammoth
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Bringing Back the Woolly Mammoth

By Noah Slesinger

Scientists around the planet have been trying to bring back the woolly mammoth, a creature that thrived 20,000 years ago but went extinct due to a warming climate. How can the woolly mammoth possibly be brought back? Is it fair to bring the mammoth back into a world it may not be able to survive in?

The method being used in an attempt to bring back the woolly mammoth (and other extinct creatures) is called back-breeding. Back-breeding entails altering the DNA of the Asian elephant, who shares a common ancestor and much of its genetic material with the mammoth. Scientists are attempting to edit the DNA to raise the elephant’s forehead and add hair and giant tusks, so the animal can look more like the mammoth. While they are essentially trying to put together a “book that’s been put through a shredder,” say some scientists, they hope to have an elephant-mammoth hybrid by 2027. 

A new company, Colossal, is trying to solve the many problems associated with bringing back the mammoth. Scientists at Colossal are currently working on piercing together fragments of mammoth DNA retrieved from fossils in Siberia. With the information gained from analyzing such DNA, they are attempting to add genes to the Asian elephant’s genome that express mammoth-like traits such as dense hair and thick fat for withstanding cold. The researchers hope to produce embryos of these mammoth-like elephants in a few years, and ultimately produce an entire population of the animal.

Other scientists in Asia are trying to perfect the process of de-extinction. For instance, Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk partners with a Siberian company that supplies him with frozen mammoth meat found in Russia. He hopes to create a mammoth by using an Asian elephant as a surrogate and utilizing existing cloning techniques.

Some are skeptical of how ethical this mission is, arguing that the mammoth would not survive well in Earth’s warming climate, as it was a creature that thrived in the extremely cold temperatures of the Ice Age. It is also worth considering whether people would prioritize the mammoth’s well-being, or if we would just exploit the animal for entertainment, social media, or commercial gain.


References

Top Documentary Films. (2015). Cloning the Woolly Mammoth. Top Documentary Films. Retrieved February 27, 2024, from https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/cloning-woolly-mammoth/

Zimmer, C. (2021, September 30). A New Company With a Wild Mission: Bring Back the Woolly Mammoth (Published 2021). The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2024, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/13/science/colossal-woolly-mammoth-DNA.html