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Revival of the Woolly mammoth: Scientists paste DNA into elephant's genetic code

By Andrew Griffin

Scientists have spliced DNA from the woolly mammoth into living elephant cells, opening up the possibility of bringing back the long extinct animal.

Over 3,000 years after the mammoth went extinct, scientists have successfully brought to live mammoth cells in a lab, they said yesterday. Scientists have replicated the genes that make elephants different from mammoths — their hairiness, bigger ears and fat beneath their skin — and successfully inserted them into an elephant’s code.

Mammoths are closely related to Asian elephants, so that the Harvard scientists didn’t need to fully create a new cell. A new technique was used by George Church, a Harvard professor of genetics, which lets scientists make specific edits to DNA and copy and paste in certain bits of code.

The living cells represent the first time that mammoth genes have been alive since they went extinct roughly 3,300 years ago. The last of the species lived on an island in the Arctic Ocean, and scientists took genes from there for the experiment.

Mammoth cells are easier to find than other animals of a similar time, because many of the remains have been buried in permafrost, preserving them like a freezer. That has led to particular interest in whether the mammoth could be revived through cloning — but not everyone agrees that cloning bringing the species back to life would be an ethical decision.

Scientists worry that the cloning procedure could involve experimenting on many living elephants, scientists told The Independent in November, when a new woolly mammoth was found.

Dr Tori Herridge, an expert in mammoth anatomy from the Natural History Museum, asked "whether or not the justifications for cloning a mammoth are worth the suffering, the concerns of keeping an elephant in captivity, experimenting on her, making her go through a 22-month pregnancy, to potentially give birth to something which won't live, or to carry something which could be damaging to her. And all of those aspects... I don't think that they are worth it; the reasons just aren't there."

Cloning mammoths could also lead people to be lax about the extinction of living animals, according to other experts.

Professor Alex Greenwood, an ancient DNA expert, told The Telegraph: "We face the potential extinction of African and Asian elephants. Why bring back another elephantid from extinction when we cannot even keep the ones that are not extinct around?

"What is the message? We can be as irresponsible with the environment as we want. Then we'll just clone things back?”

Source Independent

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