I have watched a lot of sci-fi movies to know that it never ends well. Every time some geneticist tinkers with extinct animals, sh*t happens. However, I just hope that it doesn’t happen this time. Considering we are attempting the revival of the Woolly Mammoth (remember Manny from Ice Age?). Inched that much closer last month, we really need to be careful.
A G.K. Lesson: A Woolly Mammoth is a bigger and hairier cousin of an elephant. They have been extinct (like the dodo) since four millenniums. Actually, that number is more around 10,000 years but a few stubborn blighters straggled.
A few years back chatter started about cloning the shaggy mammal. Then, a specimen was found in Siberia that was well preserved (read an ancient carcass with liquid blood. Gory, ain’t it?). Scientists were optimistic that viable genetic material could be found in it.
In the coldest city on Earth, a lab was setup with the sole purpose of resurrecting the Mammoth. Scientists from the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, Beijing Institute of Genomics and South Korea’s SOOAM Biotech Company threw their hats into the ring. They began the fragile process of extracting DNA from the bone marrow samples of the specimen. The goal was to either get a good enough sample that would contain a complete and active cell. However, in the absence of it map the entire genome of the mammoth, synthesize artificial DNA and then transplant an embryo containing it in a female elephant.
Now long, long, long (long) ago, elephants and mammoths had the same ancestor. Thus, this means that the present day elephant has a similar genetic makeup as the mammoth. So, the researchers took a detour and started comparing the two genomes. During the comparison, scientist found out how this social mammal adapted to such harsh conditions. Gene modifications lead to tiny ears, small tail and the ability to load up on fat. The minuscule tail and ears ensure that not much heat escaped from the body while the packing up of fat insulated the gargantuan species. The animal is also less sensitive to temperature. Meaning the animal does not feel as cold or hot as any other animal does at the same degree.
The goal has now become to cut the genes, which helped the woolly mammoth survive, and paste them into the genome of an Asian elephant. Why? Because it is always easier to cut copy and paste something than build it from scratch.
The detour to make a hybrid instead of a clone is taken not only because it is easier to do. Also, because there is no moral question dodged. Cloning will require an elephant to undergo a dangerous and potentially harmful pregnancy. In addition, the clone will require tundra like habitat to thrive. Which Earth presently doesn’t have. We are still away from the goal, but we are slowly getting there.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed and wish we get Manny out of the experiments instead of the 2009 horror movie Mammoth.
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