The woolly mammoth could be brought back from extinction within two years time period. Yet the important question to ask ourselves is: do we want such a thing to happen?
The concept of de-extinction raises many ethical concerns in the public mind. Take the case of the woolly mammoth. It vanished from the face of the earth some 4000 years ago.
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Yet now scientists are on the verge of bringing this ancient beast back from its extinct status to life via an amazing act of genetic engineering. Scientists discussed the de-extinction stakes at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that was held in Boston this week.
The goal of the project is the creation of a hybrid mammoth via changes made in the DNA of an Asian elephant. This hybrid creature would in fact be an ordinary elephant with traits that resemble a woolly mammoth.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said Prof George Church. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”
Although it is not possible just now, within two years time span, this concept could reach fruition. Called the mammophant, this animal would look like an elephant yet it would have little ears, lots of adipose tissue, lengthy matted hair and, last but not least, the sort of body which is adapted to extremely cold weather.
The gene editing technology known as CRISPR will be used to make this mammophant a possibility on the horizon. While up until now, the cellular level was all that this technique had ever dared to reach, now the stage of making real live embryos has been reached.
The ultimate goal is the creation of a full-fledged creature. This almost resembles what was portrayed in the novel Frankenstein. Embryogenesis is just the beginning of this process. The gene edits that need to be spliced from mammoth DNA into elephant DNA have increased over the years.
While the Asian elephant, which is itself an endangered species, could have a woolly mammoth’s genes spliced into its DNA, the whole thing reeks of “monster culture”.
That is why ethical concerns are being raised regarding the whole shebang. One of the main questions raised by scientists is how the woolly mammoth, which was a social creature, would be assimilated into the rest of the modern elephants.
Further questions of whether an elephant womb will be required or whether the whole process will be accomplished outside a living body have puzzled the scientists as well.
The closest living relative of the woolly mammoth is the Asian elephant and not the African elephant. Gene editing is a complex process and one small mistake can spell the difference between a successful hybrid and a misfit of a monster.