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By Thomas Phippen
Woolly Mammoths could be brought back to life in a couple years by reconstructing DNA from mummified carcasses of the dead beasts, according to a Harvard University researcher.
The mammoth DNA would have to be spliced with elephant genes to complete the genetic code and create a viable embryo, and in two years the creatures could be “de-extincted,” George Church, lead researcher of the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival team says.
“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.”
Mammoths and elephants share much of the same DNA, and using gene splicing tools, the Harvard team inserted mammoth traits like woolly coats, fat deposits and smaller ears into the reconstructed genome.
One of the big challenges with creating the first elephant with mammoth DNA is how to grow the fetus. Elephants are endangered, which means implanting a mammoth-elephant hybrid embryo into a surrogate mother would irk most conservationists.
“It would be unreasonable to put female reproduction at risk in an endangered species,” Church said.
So the researchers plan to grow the embryo outside a living womb, or ex-vivo.
“We’re testing the growth of mice ex-vivo. There are experiments in the literature from the 1980s but there hasn’t been much interest for a while,” Church said. “Today we’ve got a whole new set of technology and we’re taking a fresh look at it.”
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