Tsk, tsk or should I say tusk, tusk; Scientists are talking about bringing the woolly mammoth back to the arctic, an extinct animal that has only been gone for ten thousand years or so. They plan on mating it with the Asian Elephant. The last common ancestor of the two species was six million years ago. The purported purpose is to increase biodiversity and to reduce arctic thaw.
A group called Colossal and its founder George Church, a Harvard geneticist, is pushing the idea. They are proposing to create a mammoth/elephant hybrid, using gene editing and CRISPR technology. It would live in the new Pleistocene Park. Now what could possibly go wrong?
Church’s dreams of engineering a hybrid mammoth first deepened after an interview he did with the New York Times in 2008 about efforts to sequence the woolly mammoth genome.
At first, the idea was more of a grand intellectual puzzle. But in the years that followed, Church started to collaborate with Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan, the founders of the California-based Revive & Restore. Brand and Phelan aim to use biotechnology to help shore up threatened species and to bring back extinct ones. (Find out more about the science—and ethical debate—around bringing back extinct creatures.)
“De-extinction and the idea of what we call genetic rescue is really a story about hope and being able to repair some of the damage that humans have caused over the centuries,” says Phelan. “It’s not nostalgia—it’s really about increasing biodiversity.”
Why do I have my doubts? Is running the Whole Earth Catalogue sufficient experience to start messing round with dead animal genes?
“The scale at which you’d have to do this experiment is enormous. You are talking about hundreds of thousands of mammoths which each take 22 months to gestate and 30 years to grow to maturity.”Lamm said: “Our goal isn’t just to bring back the mammoth, but to bring back interbreedable herds that are successfully rewilded back into the Arctic region.”Whether Asian elephants would want to breed with the hybrids is, for now, unknown. “We might have to give them a little shave,” said Church.
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