Advances in Cloning May Help Resurrect Woolly Mammoth

It sounds like the plot from a sci-fi movie, but it's likely that  the woolly mammoth could be roaming the Earth in five years if scientists' cloning efforts go according to plan.

Using tissue from a frozen mammoth carcass in a Russian labratory, Japanese researchers hope to use new advances in cloning technology to recreate the big-tusked, pre-historic beast that has been extinct for 10,000 years.

"Preparations to realize this goal have been made," Prof. Akira Iritani, leader of the team of scientists on the project, told Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

The goal is to recover the nucleus of a mammoth cell and insert it into an elephant egg from which the nucleus has been removed.

The embryo would then be placed in an elephant's womb as scientists cross their fingers and hope a healthy woolly mammoth comes out.

If everything works out as planned,  Iritani said that a mammoth would be born in five to six years.

"If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed [the mammoth] and whether to display it to the public," Iritani said. "After the mammoth is born, we'll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors."

In the past, recovering nuclei from frozen tissue was difficult because cold temperatures had damaged the DNA. But new technique based on the work by Teruhiko Wakyama of the Riken Center for Developmental biology looks promising.

"Now that the technical problems have been overcome, all we need is a good sample of soft tissue from a frozen mammoth," Wakayama told the London's Daily Telegraph.

Scientists continue to debate whether the woolly mammoth's fall was due to climate change at the end of the Ice Age or human hunters. Last Demeber, researchers also pitted delayed weaning of their young because of long dark winters in the arctic circle, according to MSNBC.

The project has also brought in two American elephant researchers.

Selected Reading: MSNBC, Daily Yomiuri Online,  CNN

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