Last year, in the snowy parts of Siberia, a beautifully preserved woolly mammoth carcass was found. Scientists were even able to collect blood samples from the specimen, making it possible to recreate the mammoth by using DNA found in the recovered blood cells.
That’s the reason scientists now have high hopes that a clone of the mammoth could be a real possibility if they were to map its specific traits – like its tusks and hair – onto a live elephant genome.
If this long-awaited dream came true, it’s up to the researchers at the South Korean biotech company SOOAM, who are now testing the carcass for a complete set of DNA. Only if the mammoth’s DNA turned out to be complete, could the scientists clone it.
About this issue, Insung Hwang, a South Korean geneticist told the Daily News:
“Bringing back the mammoth either through clonic or genetic engineering would be an extremely long process. We’re trying hard to make this possible within our generation.”
Using carbon dating techniques, the scientists found out that the Siberian woolly mammoth – warmly nicknamed Buttercup – is 40,000 years old.
Tests conducted on its teeth revealed that the ancient animal was female, she stood about eight feet tall and was about 50 years old when she died. Scientists speculate that she was hunted and killed by some predators after becoming trapped in a bog.
Despite everything that would support such a scientific endeavor, cloning an ancient beast gives rise to a series of ethical issues.
Firstly, in order to create a live animal, a real female elephant would have to act as a surrogate mother. But birthing a woolly mammoth could harm or even kill the mother.
And it’s highly probable that scientists would have to sacrifice several animals before they get the cloning process right. And this could be useless, if the baby mammoth wouldn’t be able to stay alive for long. And chances are high.
Secondly, African and Asian elephants are endangered species and by sacrificing them in the name of science could stir up hot debates.
Woolly mammoths, on the other hand, are very social creatures. By creating one in a lab, wouldn’t grant him/her much company, except for the scientists who would likely do tons of experiments on the unfortunate creature or parade it around for everybody to see.
Meanwhile, an autopsy was conducted on Buttercup and the results will be shown on the Smithsonian Channel special, “How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth,” which will debut on November 29 at 8:00 p.m. EST.