Beasts from the Ice Age Reborn?


mammoth-redux.jpgWe all remember Jurassic Park. It was a fun movie released during our childhood that explored the wild possibility of re-creating dinosaurs for display in an island theme park. Was this work of fiction really that far outside the realm of possibility? Don't worry! Velociraptors are not about to wreak havoc through classrooms on campus and T-Rex's are not about to start flipping CATA buses out on Beaver avenue. But how far away are we from a time where we can take our children to the zoo and head straight toward the Wooly Mammoth exhibit? Could sabre-tooth tigers eventually be re-engineered to live in captivity? Geneticists and researchers certainly believe that animal replication is within our grasp.

Scientists believe that a Wooly Mammoth is a good place to start, as this creature went extinct relatively recently compared to the dinosaurs. It is a relative of the Asian elephant, which has proven to be a compatible animal for interbreeding in experiments that also used the African elephant. Asian elephants are actually more closely related to the mammoth than to the African elephant, encouraging news to scientists searching for potential surrogate mothers. They hope that an Asian elephant will be able to eventually host a mammoth embryo.

Constructing a mammoth embryo, though, is the more difficult task. Scientists from Japan and Russia are reportedly planning to extract a nucleus from the bone marrow of a mammoth's thigh bone, although the odds that the marrow is intact are extremely slim. Without intact marrow, the only options left for scientists would be to individually construct DNA into individual chromosomes. Elephants have between 50 and 60 chromosomes, more than humans, so replicating one will take some time. "You are looking 20 to 50 years, I would say," says researcher Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University. The team of Japanese and Russian scientists aims to accomplish the feat within five years.

For the optimists, only one living cell needs to be located in order to replicate that cell tens of thousands of times.  Global warming has even thawed ground in eastern Russia that is normally always frozen. This land has yielded a good number of well-preserved mammoths in recent months. Scientists have only been searching for a living cell since the late 1990's, so the quest to bring back the mammoth is still fairly young. For now it is all speculative, but at least scientists claim to possess the technology. For now, they just need the right luck to finally acquire a living cell.


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