It seems extinction may no longer be the end. Well, maybe.
There was once a time when our earth was home to an array of spectacular animals, including the majestic woolly mammoth.
It has now been over 3,000 years since these ancient animals became extinct. But if the latest reports are to be believed, then these magnificent beasts may one day roam the earth again.
That’s right, thanks to a new scientific breakthrough, this tantalising possibility has been brought one step closer to reality.
Intrigued? Then you’re in luck, as here we’re going to take a closer look at this groundbreaking research and what it could mean for life here on earth.
What Did They Do?
Scientists from the University of Harvard recently announced a mammoth leap forwards in seeing the resurrection of these hairy giants.
This has sparked huge excitement in the scientific field and ignited speculation that these ice age relics may no longer only be a part of our past, but also a feature in our future too.
The intrepid team of researchers spliced the DNA from a woolly mammoth into that of living elephant cells, where they were found to function normally - pretty incredible, right?!
This is the first time in over 3,000 years that mammoth genes have been alive - even if this was only in a lab.
The scientists utilised a new technique known as ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat’ - or CRISPR for short - in order to make this astonishing feat possible.
This technique allows for the precise editing of specific parts of DNA, and enabled the researchers to replace exact sections of elephant DNA with mammoth genes.
To be more specific, these genes were inserted into the DNA of the mammoth’s closest living relative, the Asian elephant.
The scientists focused on 14 genes in particular - associated with cold resistance - which separate mammoths from their modern day elephant cousins.
OK, so we know what you’re thinking - where did they get the mammoth DNA from in the first place?
Well, it turns out the team just happened to have access to a woolly mammoth specimen.
Mammoths are actually a little easier to come across than other species from this era, because their remains are well preserved by the Arctic permafrost.
The majority of the woolly mammoth population died out approximately 10,000 years ago. But a small herd of survivors continued to live on Wrangle Island, located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, until around 1650 BC.
To put this in context, this was about 1000 years after the great Giza pyramids were built in Egypt! Yeah we know, it’s a little mind-blowing!
It’s these last surviving mammoths who provided the genes for this latest scientific venture.
What Could This Mean?
Mammoths are the quintessential ice age creature. There’s no denying we have a strange fascination with these mysterious beasts too, much in the same way that we have a close affinity with their modern day elephant kin.
Consequently, the possibility that we could bring these beasts back from the dead is tempting, to say the least!
Whilst this latest scientific feat is certainly very exciting news, there’s still a lot of work to do. The successful splicing of elephant and mammoth DNA is only the first step in what will likely be a very lengthy process.
Hence, to answer our earlier question, whilst the goal of resurrecting the woolly mammoth is now closer than ever before, for now at least, this remains a fairly distant possibility.
But perhaps the bigger question here is not could we bring back the woolly mammoth, but rather should we?
The prospect of resurrecting these incredible animals has ignited huge debate within the scientific community.
Many scientists believe that this would be unethical. For example, some have questioned whether the money would not be better spent on conserving the world’s current population of elephants - who are also facing extinction - instead.
But ethical debates aside, there’s no denying this latest research is pretty awesome!
Here at Edulab, we’re passionate about science, and like to keep up to date with all the latest developments from the scientific field such as this.
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