Science Close To Returning Wooly Mammoth From Extinction

Scientists announced this week that they are on the verge of being able to resurrect the extinct wooly mammoth through using Asian elephant stem cells. The massive creatures died out four thousand years ago, but they may be poised to roam the planet’s colder climates once again.

It’s been said many times but bears repeating: The fact that science is capable of doing something does not make that something a good idea.

Some of the last remaining wooly mammoths were frozen in icy conditions thousands of years ago. This left much for scientists to work with, and they were able to collect extensive DNA fragments.

The wooly mammoth reached 16 feet tall and weighed as much as six tons.

The controversial effort is spearheaded by Dallas-based Colossal Biosciences. On Wednesday it announced a major breakthrough in its quest to bring the extinct species back to life.

Geneticist and company co-founder George Church told NPR that stem cells were created from an Asian elephant that could recreate an animal remarkably like the extinct mammoth.

Church called it “probably the most significant step in the early stages of this project.”

If successful, the new creature would not be the exact species that roamed icy tundras four thousand years ago. But it would be very close and sport a heavy fur coat while tolerating immensely cold conditions.

Colossal said the creation would be nearly identical. “It will walk like a wooly mammoth, look like one, sound like one, but most importantly it will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem previously abandoned by the mammoth’s extinction.”

As could be expected, many critics are opposed to the company’s lofty goal.

Tori Herridge is a University of Sheffield paleontologist. She told the Washington Post that any elephant giving birth to this new wooly mammoth would suffer.

Herridge asked, “how many dead elephants are we willing to have to get one wooly one?”

University of Arizona geosciences professor Karl Flessa told NPR that such ambitions are “irresponsible.” He asked if the result would merely be a “freak show” in a zoo.” Or, would the herd released into the Arctic simply be set up for a second extinction due to global warming?

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