We are truly living in a time of great scientific innovation, and it looks like Harvard might be making the next big step in “de-extinction,” announcing that they are about two years away from making hybrid woolly mammoth/Asian elephant embryos. Prof George Church, who heads up the project, claims that the “mammophant” would essentially be an Asian elephant with some mammoth traits, including “small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood.”
“We’re working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab.”
According to Church, these genetic modifications are being explored in an effort to save the Asian elephant from extinction, but many are still concerned with the ethical repercussions of re-introducing mammoths into the current ecosystem.
Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, said: “The proposed ‘de-extinction’ of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue – the mammoth was not simply a set of genes, it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant. What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?”
Are you hearing John Hammond declaring that he “spared no expense” in the back of your mind yet? While they are currently testing out artificial wombs as an option (with mice) instead of growing the embryos in living Asian elephants, Church believes they’re about a decade out from that depth of innovation. Apparently this particular group of scientists took Jurassic Park as a challenge. Perhaps they need some wise words from Dr. Ian Malcolm.
However, Church also has another reason for attempting to reintroduce mammoths: fighting global warming. “They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in. In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.”
Can they do velociraptors next? Maybe not as eco-conscious, but certainly way more awesome.
(Via The Guardian)