WIKIMEDIA, MAMMUTThe last wooly mammoths died about 10,000 years ago, but Harvard University geneticist George Church suspects that he could resurrect a hybrid version of the extinct beasts. By editing the genomes of their closest living cousins, Asian elephants, Church claims he will soon be able to create a mammoth-elephant embryo.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” Church told the Guardian. “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.”
Church and colleagues told New Scientist that they have already succeeded in splicing 45 genetic additions into the Asian elephant genome, and that they’re now working on discovering and adding genes that influence cold tolerance.
“The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments,” Church told New Scientist. “We already know about ones to do with small ears, subcutaneous fat, hair and blood.”
Since Asian elephants are endangered, Church admits that is unlikely that he will be able to use one as a surrogate for the embryo. And since the technology does not yet exist to carry a fetus to term in the lab, it seems likely that we’ll see a hybrid mammoth embryo long before we see a living hybrid mammoth—if ever.
Besides, ethicists have argued that funds earmarked for de-extinction could be better spent on conservation, raising questions about the merit of the research in the first place. “Should we resurrect the mammoth only to let elephants go under?” Scientific American asked in a 2013 editorial. “Of course not.”